COLLEGE PARK -- Edgewood senior Kirk Forbes had just fouled out of last night's Class 1A state semifinal game at Cole Field House, when junior Keith Winder grabbed him by a shoulder and reassured him that his school career was not over.
"He said, 'Don't worry about it. Go over there and cheer us on,'" said Forbes, who made his exit with 3: 17 left. "It was the longest three minutes of my life, but I was confident they could do it."
Forbes was not disappointed.
The Rams, who were forced to finish the game with three starters on the bench from fouls, hit nine of 12 foul shots down the stretch and escaped with an 81-71 victory over Allegany County's Westmar.
No. 13-ranked Edgewood (23-4) will meet Long Reach, a first-year school that advanced by defeating Crisfield, 40-38, in today's 1 p.m. championship at Cole.
"Other teams are so much bigger than us, and they just pound and pound it inside," said Edgewood coach Bob Slagle, who has led the Rams to the state playoffs five of the last seven years. "We didn't play very smart, and we didn't do what we wanted to do. But when the time came, we scored the points, and we played enough defense to win."
When the Wildcats weren't dumping the ball down low to 6-foot-6 center Alex Kinnie, they were making a living at the foul line. Kinnie finished the day with 32 points, and the Wildcats converted 26 of 35 free throws.
Edgewood's scoring was a bit more evenly divided. Winder and junior guard Mike Griffin, the two Ram starters who didn't foul out, led the way with 19 and 24 points, respectively. Senior forward Amos Henderson, who committed his fourth and fifth fouls within 28 seconds early in the fourth quarter, checked out with 10 points. Junior forward Allen Jordan scored nine points and grabbed 16 boards before fouling out on a charging call with 1: 38 remaining.
Forbes finished with 11 points and freshmen Eric Butler and Chris Suber, who were called up from the JV for the playoffs, combined for six points, including four clutch three throws late in the game.
"When I brought those two freshmen up, Butler and Suber, I knew they were going to have to play for me, and they really stepped up today," said Slagle.
Edgewood, which won its first and only state championship in 1975, had trouble handling the ball in the first quarter. The turnovers enabled Westmar to shoot out to an 8-0 lead. But the Rams rallied, knotting the game at 14 on Griffin's three-pointer -- the first of their six threes.
The Wildcats (19-6) took a seven-point lead midway through the second quarter. Winder, who had eight steals, was fouled with one-tenth of a second left on the clock. He hit all three foul shots to forge a 40-40 tie at the half.
Third-quarter three-pointers by Forbes, Griffin and Henderson helped the slap-happy Rams open a 59-47 lead.
Said Winder: "We've had a couple of games like this. We just came together and played like a team."
WESTMAR -- Langam 7, Wilt 13, Glass 3, Dunn 10, Kinnie 32, Broadwater 3, Morris 3. 24 26-35 71.
EDGEWOOD -- Winder 19, Forbes 11, Griffin 24, Henderson 10, Jordan 9, Suber 4, Butler 2, Pleasant 2. 35 17-25 81. Half: 40-40.
Pub Date: 3/15/97