Perry Hall's Anthony Walker explodes from the left baseline for one of his seven dunks during a 22-point performance against Dulaney. (Video by Derek Toney)

by Gary Adornato

Perry Hall's famed twin towers of Laquell Hardnett and Anthony Higgs, which led the Baltimore County school all the way to the Class 4A boys' basketball state championship last winter, are highly acclaimed, and for good reason.

Thursday night in the Gators' home opener against Baltimore County rival Dulaney, however, a third tower, 6-foot-8 pogo stick Anthony Walker, had his own coming out party in leading the 10th-ranked Gators to a thrilling 80-77 victory over the visiting and 14th-ranked Lions in a Baltimore County contest.

Walker was a sky-walking highlight show, as he slammed home seven, several spectacular, dunks while running the floor in the Gators' up tempo offense, scoring a team-high 22 points to key the victory.

Not that anything came easy. Perry Hall (3-3 overall) had its hands full with the talented yet young Lions (5-2) right to the final buzzer.

Perry Hall senior Anthony Higgs, who had a double-double, with 16 points and 14 rebounds, snatches a defensive rebound during the second half.

After Dulaney's Ryan Conway sank a pair of free throws with 11.9 seconds to play to pull his team within one point, the Lions came up with a steal and got the ball into the hands of senior star Josh Cornish. Cornish, who led all scorers with a spectacular 33-point performance, went aggressively to the rim, only to be blocked from behind by Tyler Holley. The Gators got the loose ball and fed a streaking Terence Johnson, who finished with a two-handed jam as time expired to set the final margin of victory.

Walker and Johnson were both clutch for the Gators, with Johnson finishing with 16 points, including eight in the final quarter. According to Walker, the Gators need others to step up with so much focus being placed on Hardnett and Higgs.

"The teams are worried about them and they don't worry about me so when I get the ball I am going to try my best," said Walker. "We knew they were going to press so we were going to get me out on the break. They can't jump with me."

Perry Hall coach George Panageotou explained that Walker is just starting to emerge and will be factor in his team's push to repeat as 4A state champs.

"He's extremely athletic and he can jump higher than anybody in this gym," said Panageotou of Walker. "He's an amazing leaper and he is really long. The thing we have been stressing with him, if you learn how to play hard, and play hard more often, you're going to be unstoppable. I think this was a huge, huge step for him, and we're going to rely on him more moving forward."

Perry Hall, which unveiled its state championship banner during pre-game ceremonies, started the game on fire, scoring the first 11 points and building a 15-1 lead with 4:21 remaining in the opening quarter. Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers in the quick start, Hardnett had one trey and senior Tyler Holley had a pair of breakaway dunks.

Dulaney coach Matt Lochte counsels his young troops during a timeout in the Lions' narrow loss at Perry Hall.

Dulaney, which starts three freshman and a sophomore stayed poise, despite its youth, and got back into the game with a 7-0 spurt, ending the opening quarter down just five points, at 22-17.

Cornish, a senior transfer from Calvert Hall College, who has quickly become a leader on his new team, scored nine second quarter points and helped the Lions rally all the way back to take a 37-36 lead with less than a minute to play in the first half, before the Gators edged in front by one just before intermission.

Cornish scored the first five points of the third quarter to give Dulaney a 42-38 advantage, it's biggest lead of the night. This time, Perry Hall had to battle back, tying the game at 42-42. The teams were tied two more times in the third quarter and traded a pair of leads, over the next few minutes, before Perry Hall went on an 8-0 run, with Walker opening and closing the spurt with fast-break dunks, to build a 55-48 lead. The Gators then pushed their lead to nine, late in the third, and held a 64-56 advantage heading into the final period.

In danger of letting the game slip away, Dulaney fought back again and again it was Josh Cornish leading the charge. He scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter, including a long three-pointer with a hand in his face, to square the contest once again. Following a basket by Perry Hall's Johnson, Dulaney sophomore Che Evans stroked a 3-point jumper and, suddenly, the Lions were back on top, 67-66.

Johnson responded immediately with a 3-point jumper for the Gators and, from there, the lead would change hands six more times before Perry Hall went up 78-75, with 11.9 seconds to play, following a steal and dunk by Holley and two free throws from Walker.

Two free throws by Conway moved the Lions back within one, setting up the situation in which they stole the final in bounds pass, only to see their attempt to pull out the victory blocked away.

"We're 30 practices into the season, seven or eight games into the season and we've got six freshmen and sophomores on varsity," said Dulaney coach Matt Lochte. "We're going to get better. Perry Hall is a heck of a team. They return four of their five starters from last year's state title team. We're likely to see Perry Hall again."

Hardnett and Higgs battled foul trouble much of the night, but still managed to combine for 30 points and Higgs was dominate on the glass, hauling in 14 rebounds to complete a double-double.

Conway was strong for the Lions, netting 19 points, and Evans finished with 12 points.

"Sky" Walker: Anthony Walker was a one-man highlight reel for Perry Hall Wednesday. The 6-foot-8 junior had seven dunks, in addition to two critical free throws late in regulation.

"Everyone knows Dulaney is a rival and Josh (Cornish) was unreal, making tough shots and then the young kids, Conway and Che (Evans), they can play," added Panageotou. "We switched up defenses. We tried everything we could.

"We stressed started getting out to a good start. It was our first home game. We got to unveil the banner. We needed a win. We haven't started the season as well as we would have liked, but we are very, very fortunate to win against a Dulaney team which is very good."

DULANEY 17 20 19 21 — 77
PERRY HALL 22 16 26 16 — 80
DULANEY: Conway 19, Evans 12, I. Cornish 6, J. Cornish 33, Amoruso 2, Sharp 5. TOTALS: 25 19-31 77.
PERRY HALL: Cloude 4, Hardnett 14, Walker 22, Johnson 16, Holley 8, Higgs 16. Totals: 29 12-22 80.