FREDERICK, Md. — It was all about having some intestinal fortitude in reserve.
When they found it, light bulbs suddenly illuminated and good things happened for the Williamsport boys on Saturday.
Forget the plethora of layups that just didn’t find the bottom of the net. Forget the front end of three 1-and-1 free throw situations the Wildcats missed.
But don’t forget Williamsport is celebrating its first Maryland Class 1A West region championship since 2000 after rallying for a 42-39 victory over Southern Garrett at Frederick Community College.
Williamsport (22-3) advances to take on Pocomoke (18-5) in the 1A state semifinals on Friday at 5 p.m. The game will follow the Owings Mills-Dunbar matchup in the other semifinal.
“It was like a light bulb went off in the fourth quarter,” said Brandon McCauley. “We picked up the defense and Coach told me to be shooting the ball. We had to move on in the last quarter.”
McCauley was a huge offensive reason that the Wildcats were able to rally.
His third basket of the fourth quarter, a runner along the baseline, gave Williamsport a 38-36 lead with 3:24 remaining. It capped a 12-4 run.
“Early in the game we couldn’t have thrown the basketball in the ocean,” said Williamsport’s Connor Arnone. “Coach said ‘It is now or never’ and our defense came through.”
Southern Garrett’s Kurt Gangler hit a 3 to give the Rams a 39-38 lead before Arnone responded with a driving bucket in the lane to take back a 40-39 lead with 3 minutes remaining.
In control of the foul situation, Williamsport became patient offensively and Southern needed to foul to force the Wildcats into the 1-and-1 situation, hoping the ’Cats would miss.
The plan worked. Williamsport missed three front ends, but a strapping defense forced two turnovers — the last on a steal by Arnone, who went to the line to knock down two shots with 20 seconds remaining.
“We worked our tails off defensively,” said Arnone. “(Southern) popped some 3s on us and are a great team, but our chemistry pulled us through.”
Southern had one final shot, an errant 3-ball by D.J. Ritchie, as time rolled off the clock.
The Wildcats, who were guilty of only seven turnovers, forced Southern Garrett into eight of its 19 turnovers in the final quarter.
“It’s fun scoring points but our defense starts our offense,” said Stephen Christy, who led the Wildcats with a game-high 15 points. “We just kept competing as a team. Defensively we got traps because everybody knew where they were to be.”
The rally started after Ritchie opened the third quarter with two free throws for a 34-26 lead.
McCauley answered with a basket and Christy nailed a 3-ball to get the deficit down to 34-31 with 6:06 remaining.
“Stephen’s 3 gave us a spark,” said coach Scott Mowbray. “From that point we rode the defense.”
McCauley ended with 13 points and a team-high six rebounds. The Wildcats, after shooting 33 percent in the first half, hit 9 of 20 in the second half to end with 41 percent.
“We talked at the half that we couldn’t keep shooting as poor as we did and (Southern) as well as they were,” said Mowbray. “We wanted Brandon more involved and we played well defensively.”
Williamsport’s last state appearance in 2000 came after beating Southern Garrett for the West Region title. Current Clear Spring coach Ryan Grabill was a member of that team.
Williamsport 42, Southern Garrett 39
SOUTHERN GARRETT (18-7)
Gangler 4-6 0-0 10, McBee 3-8 0-0 7, Kisselovich 4-6 0-0 8, Ritchie 2-8 2-2 7, Hilliard 3-7 1-3 7. Totals 16-35 3-5 39.
Arnone 2-9 2-3 6, Green 0-3 0-0 0, McCauley 6-13 0-1 13, Christy 5-12 4-7 15, Wise 3-5 0-0 6, Aleshire 0-0 0-0 0, Butts 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 17-41 6-11 42.
Southern 10 16 6 7 — 39
Williamsport 8 12 6 16 — 42
3-point goals—Southern 4 (Gangler 2, McBee, Ritchie), Williamsport 2 (McCauley, Christy). Rebounds—Southern 27 (Kisselovich 12), Williamsport 19 (McCauley 6). Turnovers—Southern 19, Williamsport 7.