Enthusiastic basketball fans from Perry Hall and Dulaney arrived 45 minutes early for what was eventually a standing room sell-out crowd and they were just as engaged at the very end of the Class 4A North Section I boys finals.
Unfortunately, the Dulaney fans went home disappointed as the host Lions (18-6) fell one point short in the 64-63 loss to the defending Class 4A state champion Gators (18-6).
Anthony Walker, who scored eight of his 10 points in the first quarter, canned two free throws with 7.6 seconds left to give the Gators a 64-61 lead.
Dulaney rushed up court with no time outs remaining and Cameron Amoruso made a layup with three seconds left to cut the lead to 64-63, but the Gators let the ball roll around the end line and time ran out.
The Lions almost didn't get that close.
They trailed 62-55 with under 30 seconds left until Josh Cornish made three-pointers with :28 and :08 seconds left.
"Their was all that emotion going and we came down and hit two threes to get it where we got it and they burned their last two time outs," Dulaney coach Matt Lochte said. "Sure, we would love to kick out for a three for one more opportunity for overtime, but both teams were out of time outs and a hard-fought battle like that, we just need to be a little more efficient there, but that wasn't the play that lost the game, that was the play that didn't tie the game."
Both teams had key players in foul trouble all night, with Walker in the first half and Laquill Hardnet (16 points) in the fourth quarter for Perry Hall.
Hardnett, who had 10 points in the third quarter, announced on Monday that he will play basketball at the University of Cincinnati next year.
Dulaney's Che Evans (11 points, six rebounds) and Cornish had three at halftime and Evans picked up his fourth with 5:49 left in regulation and the score tied, 48-48.
Perry Hall followed with a 5-0 run, keyed by senior Tyler Holley (11 points).
He had a feed to Anthony Higgs (15 points), whose conventional three-point play made it 51-48 with 5:38 left. Higgs will play at the University of Mississippi next season.
Holley's two free throws with 4:58 made it 53-48 with 4:58 left.
He scored seven points in the fourth quarter and his leadership blossomed with the big guys on the bench.
"Once we got in foul trouble, somebody had to be a leader and I just wanted to make sure we played our game, stayed composed and came out with a win," Holley said.
Perry Hall coach George Panageotou praised Holley after the game.
"I love this kid. He is going to do whatever it takes to help us secure wins," Panageotou said. "It doesn't matter if it's scoring rebounding, hitting free throws, defending and exposing his body at no risk."
Holley didn't score in the first quarter and had just two free throws in the second, but he scored nine in the second half.
"He is part of the up and coming Perry Hall and what we've done for three straight years and of course we didn't want to lose to a rival and we didn't want to lose in a sectional final, so he was a big part of this win for sure," Panageotou said.
Had Dulaney completed its comeback, freshman Ryan Conway would have been a key reason.
He had three three-pointers and a game-high 22 points, but felt the loss emotionally after the game.
"This team has become like family to me," he said. "I'm blessed and thankful for this group of guys that we had such a great run together."
Perry Hall will play in the regional finals on March 2 at Paint Branch.
While Perry Hall moves on, Dulaney coach Lochte hugged every player that left the locker room for the last time and he had a special fondness for seniors Cornish. Will Schmidt, Kevin Sharp, Taevan Bradley and Pat Unger.
Cornish, a Calvert Hall transfer this year, will play at Southern Utah next year, but his legacy will remain.
He came into a new environment on a team with a combined seven sophomores and freshmen on the roster and fit right in.
"Josh Cornish is as good as any leader I've ever coached," Lochte said. "We've only been together for a few months and our relationship from day one has just grown and grown and grown and grown together. I couldn't be more honored to coach and be proud of Josh's accomplishments."
Against Perry Hall, Cornish scored nine of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and he made 4 of 8 three-pointers, but scoring is not all his coach will remember.
"There is no player in Baltimore County that has done any more for their team than Josh Cornish." Lochte said. "What he does without the ball and what he does that doesn't go on the stat sheet is unbelievable."
Cornish cherished his one season with the Lions.
"This is my family," Cornish said. "I will know them for the rest of my life and I'll stay in contact when I'm in Utah."
Perry Hall 64
Laquill Hardnett 16, Anthony Higgs 15, Tyler Holley 10, Anthony Walker 10, Terrence Johnson 6, Xavier Gravette 4, D.J. Cloude 2
Halftime: Perry Hall 27-26