COLLEGE PARK — The opening minutes of Friday's Class 2A state semifinal gave the North Carroll boys basketball team an early indication of what it was up against in dealing with talented Gwynn Park.
The Yellow Jackets from Prince George's County showed quickness with an immediate steal, strength and athleticism underneath the basket and good aim from the perimeter.
For the Panthers, who played hard and never backed down, it was simply too much.
Mike Hemsley scored 16 points and Brandon Ford added 15 as the Yellow Jackets rolled to Saturday's title game with a 69-36 win over the Panthers.
Despite the season-ending setback, North Carroll (20-6) enjoyed a breakthrough season under second-year coach Chris Vaughn. With five new starters, the Panthers captured the program's first Carroll County championship in 25 years, won the Monocacy Valley Athletic League's Chesapeake Division for the first time and staked claim to their third regional title and first since 1985.
"These kids did something with this team that our school hasn't done in 25 years -- we won a conference championship. We've never done that, so they have a lot of things they can hang their hats on," Vaughn said. "It's more than just coming down here and people saying you played that team and they took it to you pretty good. At the same time, we accomplished a lot as a team and the game is just a glimpse of the season."
On Friday, the Panthers tried everything to try to contain the highly skilled Yellow Jackets (20-5), but the task proved too difficult.
Ford hit three 3-pointers in the game's first three minutes to stake the Yellow Jackets to an 11-2 lead, and the Panthers were never able to recover. After Ford's work from the outside, it was Hemsley and Tion Barnes (12 points) dominating inside for the Yellow Jackets, combining to score 17 first-half points to build an insurmountable 36-19 halftime advantage. Gwynn Park ended with a 47-25 advantage on the boards.
"It was definitely different [compared to other competition the Panthers faced]. We were expecting it, we just didn't plan for it," said Dan Hoffman, a 6-foot-5 forward who finished with a team-high 10 points. "We didn't prepare enough for their athleticism. We didn't box out and they got too many offensive rebounds and second chances."