The ladder was set up under the basket on the far end of the Largo High School gymnasium before the Lions boys basketball team could even get to the sideline following Saturday's 67-61 win against visiting Frederick Douglass in the 2A South Region championship game.
Largo has won four region titles in 12th-year coach Lewis Howard's tenure, but Saturday was the first time the Lions did it in front of a home crowd.
Each member of the team, one by one, climbed up the ladder to cut himself a piece of the net to keep as a reminder of the momentous occasion.
“When I first got to Prince George's County we were playing the region championship over at Prince George's Community College. Then four or five years after that [Henry A.] Wise opened up and they started having all the games there,” Howard said. “This is the first time the championship has been here at Largo. It's March and we're still playing. We're having March Madness right here and it's exciting. “
Largo (21-4) will face 2A East Region champion Easton (18-4) of Talbot County at 7 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center in College Park.
It will be the Lions' first state tournament appearance since 2007 and seventh overall. They've won two championships, in 1993 and 2008.
Douglass (12-14) was a surprise finalist after knocking off top-seeded Gwynn Park in the semifinals on Thursday. But the Eagles are not the same team that went 6-12 during the regular season in the Prince George's 3A/2A/1A League.
Douglass lost point guard Jeffrey Calhoun in the fourth game of the season to a broken hand. Before Saturday the Eagles were undefeated in the nearly two weeks since he returned to the lineup. “To have your point guard back, now everyone was able to play their position and it really helped our chemistry,” said Douglass coach Tyrone Massenburg. “We started playing well at the right time. We knew we were going to play a perfect game, Largo is a very good team. But I'm proud of these guys. I know Largo didn't expect to see me walk in there [Saturday].”
Though Largo defeated Douglass in the teams' previous two meetings by a combined score of 149-110, Howard said he was wary of the Eagles Saturday.
“It's difficult to beat a team three times in a row,” Howard said. “Plus there's something on the line, we knew they weren't going to just lay down. It's sports, you've got to make your shots.”
And that is exactly what the Lions were able to do when things got tight Saturday.
After trailing for most of the game the Eagles tied the score at 53-53 midway through the fourth quarter. That's when the Lions, reliant on a senior-laden lineup that's been together for four years, tightened up their game. Douglass had turnover and missed layups that prevented the Eagles from maintaining their momentum.
Largo senior guard Derrick Colter's 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer opened up what had been a tightly contested quarter to give Largo a 16-10 lead. Two more 3-pointers early in the second quarter propelled the Lions to a 30-16 lead late in the period, and Largo seemed well on its way to an easy victory. Colter finished with a game-high 33 points, including five 3-pointers.
After hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Douglass a one-point win at Gwynn Park on Thursday, Michael Cunningham had nine second-quarter points on Saturday to help the Eagles close the gap to five points at halftime, 36-31. But Largo responded to take an 11-point lead early in the third quarter and led 50-43 heading into the fourth period.
It was Cunningham's fourth 3-pointer of the game tied the score in the fourth. After trading baskets for three minutes, Largo built an insurmountable lead late.
Cunningham netted a team-best 23 points.
Howard said he's not sure when the net will be replaced, but Saturday was about celebrating a milestone.
“We're fortunate that we have kids that can play different positions and different sizes,” he said. “These kids have played together for four years, you take one thing away, another one will answer.”
Largo 67, Douglass 61
Douglass 10 21 12 18 — 61
Largo 16 20 14 17 — 67
Douglass (12-14): Michael Cunningham 23; Marvies Davies 21; JaSahn Johnson 10; Trevor Johnson 3; Jeffrey Calhoun 2.
Largo (21-4): Derrick Colter 33; Michael Graham 17; Daemond Carter 7; Damante McNeill 4; Lafayette Nelson 4; Khari Sewell 2.