“Are you going to the game?”
The question was asked by students and teachers alike throughout the seemingly endless hours prior to the Maryland Public School System Athletic Association state semifinal match-up on March 8, 2012; between the Centennial High School (CHS) Eagles and the Thomas Stone High School (TSHS) Cougars at Comcast Center at the University of Maryland. This was 21-5 Centennial’s second consecutive state semifinal appearance, a school record, and 24-1 Thomas Stone’s first appearance since 2010.
The answer to that question, for the majority of both schools anyway, was yes. Complete with a brilliant Eagle Pep Band, mascot, dance team, and horde of the Centennial faithfully decked out in red that seemed to be as numerous as the red chairs of Comcast Center (upon finding his way to his seat, a reporter uttered an expression of surprise when he witnessed the sheer size of the Centennial crowd). The Cougars were not far behind, with a large following of their own and a talented cheerleading squad (the audience was treated to series of flips that stretched along the length of Gary Williams Court).
The thunderous claps and chants of both throngs of supporters, even prior to tip-off, registered in the upper echelons of the decimal scale. As the first quarter ticked away, both teams whipped out their boxing gloves and traded proverbial punches in the form of baskets. However, one team could not land more than a few punches without its counterpart returning the favor. The largest lead in the first stanza belonged to CHS, but TSHS bounced back by the conclusion of it to knot the score up at 12.
The slug match continued in the second quarter, as the largest lead of the first half extended to a CHS six. This was courtesy of the commanding rebound work of junior Timi Tinuoye and the jumpers of both junior Omari Ringgold and senior Keonte Potts. A buzzer beating Michael Briscoe trey edged the Cougars ahead of the Eagles by a mere point at the end of the half, 23-22.
Despite the relentless Eagle fight and want-to that reared its head throughout the entirety of the second half, the Cougars never relinquished the lead for the duration of the game.
The entire Centennial squad was seen constantly diving after loose balls and swarming the glass in attempts to spark a comeback, but the most notable offender was Tinuoye. He scored the final 15 Centennial points, of his 19 total, and reeled in an astonishing 16 rebounds. “There was enough time to come back. If we made a few defensive stops, we could have still been in the game. We just had to keep going, keep pushing,” Tinuoye stated. Centennial Head Coach Chad Hollwedel said, “I have never once seen these guys quit ever. So, there was no way they were going to quit today.” The third and fourth quarters ended 45-33, and 69-61, respectively.
Potts, who contributed 22 points of his own, gave credit to where credit was due. “They were a pretty good team. They rebounded well, and they had a pretty good defense. They executed their offense, and they just got the win,” he elucidated.
Ringgold, who had 14 points, was understandably disheartened, but grateful for the opportunity following his transfer from Mount Hebron High School. “It is just great to be a part of the program, and to come this far, but I can’t believe it ended like this. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We just have to go back next year and keep working hard,” he explained.
Going into next season, Hollwedel’s expectation is “to be 1-0 at the end of every game we play, and in the off-season dedication to the kids is part of what helps us get there. We have five kids graduating and brought fourteen kids down here. So the feeling is, from this group and I’m sure of the returners, they’re still one goal shy of what we wanted. Three of four is outstanding, but we are missing the one that we wanted, [but] all but one team is going to be missing the one that they wanted.”
Hollwedel explained that “the bottom line is that these seniors have done something that has never been done before in the history of the school, and they have done it in back to back years. So there is no mistake here, there is no reason to be ashamed. [I am] just incredibly proud with what these kids have done, both with the dedication to this program, both in the offseason and within season itself. They are an incredible bunch of kids, and as a result we see something that is very special to our school and our community.”