In Wilde Lake's two earlier losses to Hammond this year, 6-5 Phil Chenier played on the wing and wasn't much of a factor, fouling out both times.
Friday night at Hammond with the Class 2A Region II titleon the line, Chenier played inside and ate the Bears alive on the boards.
Chenier scored a career-high 32 points, and Wilde Lake beat Hammond, 77-69, winning its first regional title since 1985, when the Wildecats grabbed the Class 2A state title. Wilde Lake advances to the state semifinals in College Park this week.
"Chenier finally figuredhe could kick our butts in the paint, and he's so tall you can't do anything with him," Hammond coach Jack Burke said. "Chenier got the rebounds and was the difference. He's a very good player."
Hammond tried to win its third straight regional title but got off to a shakystart earlier in the day. Team scoring leader and one of the county's dominant players, Kyle Jefferson, was poked in the eye during a gymclass.
Jefferson (18 points) started the game with protective goggles but abandoned them early on. He scored six points in the first half, as Wilde Lake's Adam Tyer played strong defense against him. Tyer had been suffering with back spasms and was forced to sit out Tuesday's upset win over Overlea.
"Adam did a super job," Wilde Lake coach Paul Ellis said. "Our game plan was to stop Jefferson. We didn't do much else different from the two games we lost to them, except we played better."
Ellis, a 27-year coaching veteran, was especially delighted. This will be the first team he has taken to the state playoffs.
Hammond led throughout the first quarter until Chenier's shot at the buzzer put the Wildecats up, 17-16.
Chenier, who scored 19 points and blocked two shots in the first half, had five blocks for the game.
Wilde Lake's Joe Guyton, one of its hottest offensive players, was held to just four points in the first half, but explodedin the second to finish with 20.
Guyton warmed up with six pointsin the third quarter and finished with a flourish of 10 points in the fourth quarter, including four free throws in the final minute.
"We didn't think anybody could beat us three times, so we just decided to play harder," Guyton said.
It was during the third quarter that Wilde Lake began to pull away, following 14 lead changes.
Hammond led, 40-37, after a driving basket by Adam Walker (11 points), whowas held scoreless in the first half by Guyton.
Then Chenier sankof one of his six rebound baskets to start a 14-4 run by Wilde Lake that left the 'Cats leading, 51-44.
Guyton scored six points, Chenier four and guard David Friedman (seven points for the game ) scoredfour during that run. Guyton sank two fast-break layups and scored on a drive. Friedman converted a fast-break layup and sank an incredible rebound shot while falling away from the basket.
Jefferson's dunk ignited Hammond's fans and made it 51-46 with 45 seconds left in the third quarter. But Tyer's shot at the buzzer left Wilde Lake leading, 53-46.
Hammond got as close as five, 70-65, with 1:12 to play.But Guyton hit two free throws, and Jefferson missed a one-and-one with 58 seconds left.
Friedman put Wilde Lake up 73-65 with a free throw, and then Guyton blocked a shot and scored on a fast-break layup for a 75-65 lead that sealed Hammond's fate.
"Wilde Lake hit their crucial free throws tonight, which they failed to do the last timewhen we beat them by a point," Burke said. "They have a little more talent than we do, and their athleticism won out. But I'm proud of our kids. They played as well as could be expected."
Karl Williams (19 points) played a big game for Hammond, as he has several times in the second half of the season.
Team captain Randy Miller chipped in with 11 points for Wilde Lake.