COLLEGE PARK -- Trailing Potomac of Prince George's County by eight points with 2 1/2 minutes left, and with the heart of its lineup in deep foul trouble, Catonsville closed the game with an 11-2 run for a stunning 70-69 win and the state Class 3A title yesterday at Cole Field House.
"It's hard to find the words," said Catonsville coach Art Gamzon, whose team lost to DuVal in last year's state final, "but the way we won was just incredible. It was a storybook finish."
Rob Reich and James Lewis played lead roles down the stretch for the Comets, who won the school's first state boys basketball title since 1928. After Lewis' foul shot with 29.6 seconds left put Catonsville (24-2) within 69-68, he missed the second shot but hustled to grab his own rebound and get it to Antonio Miles. Miles also missed short, but was able to swat the ball to Reich at the top of the key.
After setting up for the three- pointer, Reich faked, drove in two steps, double-pumped and hit a leaning 12-footer with 23.1 seconds left, giving the Comets a 70-69 lead and sending the crowd into a frenzy.
"I was at the top of the key in case [Potomac] got a fast break," said Reich. "I was able to get my guy in the air and drive. I thought I could hit it. They've got to be the biggest points of my life."
Lewis, whose foul shot would've tied it, said he was intent on redeeming himself with the rebound.
"I was going through anybody to get the ball so we could get the win," said Lewis. "I was just trying to get it and hold the ball."
Once the Comets got the lead, they kept it with defense. Kevin Young, William Peters and Eric Contee of Potomac each missed shots from close range in the final 12 seconds, as Lewis and Teron Owens rose to the occasion on defense.
"The guys refused to quit," said Gamzon.
Making the effort seem even more remarkable was Catonsville's serious foul trouble. After Owens picked up his fourth foul with 2:47 left in the third quarter, both Reich and Ron Hill picked up theirs shortly thereafter, and Hill fouled out with 4:01 left in the game.
Potomac, however, couldn't take advantage of its many foul-shot opportunities, hitting 60 percent for the game and four of eight in the last 4:01.
"We didn't make our free throws down the stretch. That was probably the difference in the game," said Potomac coach Taft Hickman, whose team ended its season at 23-4. "We just didn't score down the stretch when it was important."
Gamzon, who was forced to play reserves Miles and Matt Taylor, as well as sixth man Eric Prince in key situations down the stretch, said he was worried about the foul trouble.
"It certainly didn't look good," he said. "The fouls obviously hurt us, but our people were able to step up."
Potomac, which led 51-49 at the half and 68-63 at the end of the third quarter, looked to be in command, leading 67-59 with 2:26 left. The Comets, however, never gave up hope.
Said Owens: "We all looked at each other and said, 'This game isn't over until the final horn sounds.' "
Owens scored four of his 17 points in the final 2:12, and was one of four different Comets who scored in the last 1:25.
Lewis led Catonsville with 20 points and 18 rebounds, and Reich added 14 points and four steals. James Rice and Kevin Young each scored 15 for the Braves.
Seconds after the win, Catonsville fans poured onto the court to greet the jubilant players. To many, the win more than made up for last year's state final loss.
Said Lewis: "Oh yes, I wanted to win this so bad. I was thinking back to last year."
Added Reich: "There's not much more you can ask for. It was like a dream come true."
POTOMAC -- Mason 12, Contee 8, Brown 10, Rice 15, Young 15, Peters 9. Totals: 25 17 -28 69.
CATONSVILLE -- Reich 14, Owens 17, Lewis 20, Terrell 4, Hill 9, Miles 4, Taylor 2. Totals: 30 7-14 70.
Potomac 21 17 13 18 -- 69
Catonsville 14 20 15 21 -- 70