Host Severn qualified for its first appearance in the Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference finals, using a 17-4 third-quarter burst to defeat Anne Arundel County rival St. Mary's, 51-45.
Jason Moran scored six of his eight points during the pivotal period on three layups. Jamand Mack scored four of his team-high 10 points during the spree, as he and freshman guard John Vereen (eight points) sparked the defense with two steals each -- all of which led to easy baskets.
"I think all year long, our defense has been the key. We're not all that good when we just have to play a half-court game," said Severn coach Jim Doyle, whose team has earned its first 20-win season against seven defeats.
"We just didn't protect the ball, they came out and got two quick turnovers that resulted in four points, and then our guys started standing around," said Saints coach Jim Sheehan, whose team finished the season with a 10-14 mark.
The top-seeded Admirals' run turned what was a precarious 28-22 lead to a 47-26 lead on a jumper by Mack just 10 seconds into the fourth period. From then on, it was St. Mary's turn to go on a run, although it wasn't enough.
The fifth-seeded Saints outscored the Admirals 17-4 over the next six minutes and 40 seconds. Senior guard Charlie McCloud, who poured in a game-high 20 points in addition to grabbing five rebounds, hit for seven points during the stretch, while center Rory Kiernan (16 points, 10 rebounds) registered six -- including a 3-pointer from near the top of the key that brought the visitors within eight at 51-43 with 1:07 remaining.
"We played really hard defensively [in the fourth quarter], and I think they made every adjustment that we had to make. You're never really satisfied with a loss, but I was definitely pleased with the effort. They never gave up, and they did a nice job of coming back," said Sheehan.
St. Mary's strength on the boards kept things interesting throughout the first half, as they out-rebounded Severn 15-8 (including 11-4 in the first quarter). Kiernan and 6-4 Chris Dudley (four points, seven rebounds) were relentless on the offensive glass.
With the Admirals holding on to a 20-18 advantage with four minutes left in the second quarter, Vereen came off the bench to ignite his club with a double-clutch layup in traffic, a 17-foot jumper, and a baseline jumper in a 90-second span.
"I think John is just going to be a great player," said Doyle. "He held us in there [during the first half]. When he came in, we isolated him, and he got the job done. He's the type of player that you have to turn loose."
Forward Chris Pitkin and center Andrew Webb chipped in nine and eight points respectively for the winners.
"We're not going to be happy with just going to the finals," said Doyle. "Last year, maybe it would have been enough, but this year's team is beyond that."