Words: Anna Mitchell
Clarksville, MD – On Thursday, February 28, 2013, the Centennial Eagles boys’ basketball team traveled to River Hill for the second round of playoffs. The Eagles, coming off of a win on Tuesday, would face the 20-5 Hawks who had a first round bye.
The Eagles’ sixth-man student section began arriving thirty minutes before the game, set to begin at 6 PM. They were decked out in red and cheering and chanting as soon as the team ran out onto the court for warm-ups. The turnout of Centennial fans huddled together behind the Eagles’ bench easily outnumbered the River Hill students, even though they were visitors in the Hawks’ home gym. The energy in the arena was unbelievable before the match even began. Neither section had the slightest bit of idea as to what kind of match they were getting themselves into.
Following the National Anthem and player introductions, both teams were ready to play, with outstanding support from their fans. After tip-off, it was hard to predict the night’s outcome. The Hawks would take the lead first, but be silenced by almost each offensive possession by the Eagles. At the end of the first quarter, the Hawks lead by five points.
The back-and-forth play continued throughout the second period. The loud cheers from both sixth-man groups also progressed, making it nearly impossible to hear the person sitting next to you speak. Approaching halftime, the Hawks had settled a consistent lead, settling between eight to ten points each possession.
In the third quarter, the Hawks continued scoring while the Eagles struggled to convert their offensive breaks. When the Hawks reached their greatest lead of the match, twelve points, the Eagles knew they needed to make a change. After a crucial timeout, the squad came out with intensive defense and pressure that forced turnovers and allowed easy layups. The Eagles weren’t going home without a fight.
With three minutes remaining in the match, the Eagles finally achieved a tie at 48-48, the first time in the entire game that the Hawks weren’t winning. The fans stood on their respective sides, watching the nail biting final moments unravel. With the last minute running down on the clock, the Eagles had to resort to fouling in order to stop time.
With six seconds left on the clock, Centennial was down by four points. Sophomore Chad Strothers of the Eagles drove hard through the lane, and was fouled on his way to the hoop. He was given two free-throws. On the line, he sunk the first one, and a sigh of relieve resonated throughout the Eagles’ fans.
Then Strothers missed his second free-throw, the rebound landing in the hands of River Hill. Believing that this error sealed the deal and confirmed the Eagles’ loss, the Hawks’ student section chanted the general cheer to make Centennial feel bad: “It’s all over,” “Start the buses,” and the song excerpt “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” In retaliation, the Eagles’ fans replied with “It’s not over,” but it was hard for many to believe there was a chance for a comeback with such little time on the clock, no possession of the ball, and a three point deficit.
Suddenly, the Eagles players on the floor swarmed the River Hill player with possession of the rebound. After getting their hands on the ball, a jump-ball was called. The eyes of every fan in the arena turned to the scoreboard to see which team would have possession. Cheers erupted from the Eagles’ side of the gym when they saw the arrow illuminated, pointing to the Visitor’s side, giving Centennial a second chance to score.
The Eagles set up an inbounds play that needed to result in a three-pointer to tie the game. With 2 seconds remaining, senior Omari Ringgold caught the ball outside of the arch, and with two River Hill players guarding him, took one dribble and the crowd watched the game’s most crucial shot travel through the air.
When the ball swished through the basket, chaos erupted. River Hill fans silenced in disbelief, and Eagles fans screaming, high-fiving each other, and jumping in complete awe. The game had been tied with virtually no time remaining in regulation. The Eagles had been given a second opportunity to win. With the final siren buzzing, the energy from Centennial’s side of the gym was incredible.
In the first overtime, the game was very back-and-forth. The Eagles would score a field goal, and then be returned by a River Hill lay-up or quick jump shot. At the end of the five-minute period, the score was tied 63-63. This meant the match would have to continue into a second overtime.
In the second overtime, the nerve-wracking play continued. There were hardly any advancements made by either team that gave them a lead that could be difficult to overcome. However, River Hill’s lineup began taking a toll. Charles Thomas, the second leading scorer during the game for the Hawks, fouled out after committing an offensive foul. He was replaced with a back-up player, although it was easy to see the Hawks were getting worn out. The Eagles, mostly staying out of foul trouble, carried on and fought to the best of their ability. At the end of this period, the score was 68-68; another tie, and another overtime period on the way.
In the third overtime, there was finally an awaited three-pointer hit by Centennial’s Ringgold. Although River Hill came back with a layup, they could not compete with the Eagles’ energetic hustle and breakaway plays. With 40 seconds remaining, the score was 78-74, Centennial. The Hawks had to succumb to fouling to stop the clock. However, with the converting of their free throws, the final score was 81-76, Eagles. As Ringgold sunk his final free throws and ended his night with an outstanding 42 points and confirmed their win, the River Hill student section exited the gym at once, disappointed.
The Eagles fans, still with the same pride they arrived in the gym before the game even began (but maybe a little exhausted), huddled at the edge of the bleachers, waiting to greet their beloved players and add to the bittersweet ending—storm River Hill’s court.
Centennial continues their playoff journey and will face off against the Reservoir Gators on Tuesday, March 5 at 5 PM for the regional semi-finals.