As the defending Class 4A boys basketball champions, the Perry Hall Gators have quickly learned that little is coming easy for them this season.
In their home opener Wednesday against upstart Dulaney, after celebrating the program's first crown by unveiling the championship banner, the No. 7 Gators had to grind out the final minute to pull out a win.
Senior guard Tyler Holley had a big steal and dunk, junior Anthony Walker hit two clutch free throws and then Holley blocked a shot under the basket in the closing seconds. Shortly after, senior Terrence Johnson scored an easy layup just before time expired to give Perry Hall an 80-77 win over the No. 15 Lions in Baltimore County play.
Walker led four Gators in double figures with 22 points — including four dunks to go with the makes at the free-throw line late — with Johnson (16 points), Anthony Higgs (16 points and 17 rebounds) and Laquill Hardnett (14) producing the balanced offense.
Perry Hall, fresh off an upset loss to Gerstell Academy in the championship game of Patterson's Eckert Winter Classic last week, get the 2018 portion of the schedule off to a good start to even its record at 3-3.
Dulaney, which got a 33-point performance from Josh Cornish, fell for the second straight time and is 5-2.
After scoring the first 11 points of the game, the Gators had to continually answer runs by the Lions.
"It's just enormous to battle hard and earn it at the end," Perry Hall coach George Panageotou said. "We told the kids everybody is going to be coming for Perry Hall and we needed it."
Behind Cornish, the Lions kept coming. He scored the Lions' first nine points of the third quarter to give them a 46-44 lead.
But the Gators responded with a 15-5 run later in the quarter to again seemingly take control — Walker's inside basket from a pass from Hardnett providing a 62-53 lead with 1:51 left in the quarter.
More offense from Cornish to start the fourth quarter — eight straight points this time — and then a 3-pointer from sophomore Che Evans gave the Lions a 67-66 lead with 5:12 to play.
Holley's work in the final minute — his last big contribution coming when he blocked Cornish's shot in the closing seconds of a one-point game — helped make the difference.
"The defensive effort is what won the game today," he said. "I just wanted to go straight up and luckily I got all ball. I'm thankful — thank the Lord we won that game."
Freshman Ryan Conway scored 19 points for the Lions, who also got 12 from Evans.
Dulaney coach Matt Lochte was quick to credit the Gators and said their experience showed up in the important minutes, but he was also impressed with how his team responded favorably throughout the game to provide the 32-minute push. The Lions have six freshmen and sophomores on the roster with three of them in the starting lineup.
"We got a lot to learn, but we're getting better every day. I got some guys that compete," he said. "We're a talented bunch, a good group that's working hard and we'll bounce back."
Dulaney — Conway 19, Evans 12, I. Cornish 6, J. Cornish 33, Amoruso 2, Sharp 5. Totals: 25 19-31 77.
Perry Hall — Higgs 16, Hardnett 14, Holley 8, Walker 22, Cloude 4, Johnson 16. Totals: 29 12-22 80.
Half: PH 38-37