By Robert Eriksen and Mario Diaz
Hagerstown, Md. – The Panthers spent the last year wondering what it felt like to be champions, having finished runner-up in last season's tournament. Now, Baltimore City has the honor of being the final Maryland Juco Men's Basketball Champion, defeating Frederick 77-74 at Hagerstown Community College.
"It feels great," said Baltimore head coach Terry Maczko. "That was a great college basketball game right there. From start to finish, both teams battled like crazy, and that was so much fun. For my guys to get here, it's all about their grit and toughness, because we didn't play well the first two games. Tonight we came out and we had to play well against a great Frederick team."
Tournament MVP Kobby Ayetey finished with just nine points (4-9), but his 10 rebounds proved big for the Panthers down the stretch. He finished the tournament averaging 11 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
"It was about staying together as a family," Ayetey said. "Being there for each other, like a family, no matter what. And going out with the final Maryland Juco championship is a great honor."
Fellow Panther Joe Adedayo was also named to the All-Tournament team and finished the game with 16 points on 4-11 shooting.
Frederick's David Garey and Dwayne Garner were the Cougars All-Tournament members. Garey finished with a game-high 26 points (7-20) and Garner added 11.
The tone was set early in this championship match with Ayetey knocking down a three-pointer on the first Panthers' possession.
Corey Barnett committed two early fouls which forced him to the Cougars bench just two minutes into the game. He was a force in the semifinals against Harford, leading the team in both points and rebounds (27 points and 10 rebounds).
Fast paced play was the story initially, as both teams were able to get down the court quickly on offense and create easy scoring opportunities.
The Panthers were able to start better than they had in their previous two games when they trailed at the half.
Frederick had opportunities from three, but were 0-5 from beyond the arc midway through the first and trailed 21-16.
An off ball foul by Frederick sent Lelan Eackles to the line and he sunk two free throws to expand on the Panthers lead 26-18 with eight minutes left in the half.
On the ensuing Frederick possession, the Panthers came up with a steal and in transition Eackles scored another two points on a layup, forcing Frederick to take a timeout.
This 7-0 run led to a frustration fueled technical from Frederick and it sent Desmond Rene' to the line where he extended the lead 29-18 with 7:55 to the break.
Frederick composed themselves and bounced back.
Juwan Burnett capped off a much needed momentum swing with a steal and a layup trimming the deficit to 33-30, while also completing a 7-0 run for the Cougars.
With 19 combined team fouls, Baltimore and Frederick exchanged free throws in the last five minutes of the first.
The Panthers led 45-42 at halftime.
Baltimore shot 51.6% from the field in the first half. Barnett's absence was noticeable, as Fredrick shot just 27.8%.
The second half started off with back-to-back turnovers for both teams, but Baltimore City was very active on the defensive end, blocking three straight shots in the paint.
Runs defined the second half of play.
In the 18th minute of the second half, Frederick went on a 16-6 run thanks to some clutch shots by Garey.
Frederick began forcing turnovers, which led to transition scoring.
After Frederick's run, Baltimore City countered with an 18-8 run of their own, which featured clutch blocks and generating point-creating turnovers.
Adedayo hit three pointers on three straight possessions with eight minutes left.
The championship game would come down to the final minute.
After a block, the Panthers transitioned for two. A turnover by Frederick gave Baltimore another possession that would lead to a Frederick foul and two made free throws.
With 13 seconds left, Gary hit a three pointer to pull Frederick within two at 76-74.
Frederick had to foul in hopes that Baltimore City missed its free throws. Adedayo made one and missed his second.
Gary got the ball in his hands, but missed the shot and Baltimore City grabbed the rebound to win the tournament championship.