COLLEGE PARK — After a tough loss to J.M. Bennett in February, North Caroline coach Steve Perry called his seniors in the locker room for a meeting. With the state playoffs just around the corner, and being their last go-around in that royal blue and white uniform, Perry delivered a simple message to the six seniors.
“We came in on that Monday, and he pulled us in, all the seniors,” senior 6-foot-5 center Ja’Mion Franklin said, “he was just saying it’s up to y’all, it’s on y’all’s shoulders.”
The Bulldogs accepted the label and pride of being an underdog in their journey to the Final Four, going on the road to beat two-seeded Easton before defeating then-unbeaten Wicomico. On Friday night, the third-seeded Bulldogs kept this run going out to unseat the 2A South champs River Hill, 62-48, another team that held a top seed.
Thanks to Joey Adams (31 points) and company, the Bulldogs from Caroline County are making a state championship game appearance for the first time since 1978
“You know you’re the underdog when you come in and everyone is like who are they?” Franklin said. “That’s like putting gas into a fire, man.”
In a game that was closer than the final score indicated, the Hawks fought as hard as they could to stay in the game to have a fighting chance towards the end. After leading in both quarters in the first half, the Hawks struggled tremendously in the third quarter, only scoring five points on 16.7 percent shooting, including 1-for-5 from 3-point land. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were able to shoot 45.5 percent on their field goal attempts, including 75 percent on 3-for-4 shooting.
“It’s all about bending and not breaking,” Franklin said. “That’s been our motto this whole time. Every time they came down we had a counterpunch for them. Every time we had an answer.”
North Caroline was able to sit back and watch the Adams show as he was able to close out the game scoring 11 points down the stretch, including eight free throws. An Adams 3-pointer set off a 13-5 run in the middle of the final frame to end the game after River Hill came as close as 44-39. David Bailey and Brenden McKenna stretched the lead back to double digits after Bailey canned a 3-pointer and McKenna sank a pair of free throws. During his last trip to the free throw line MVP chants reigned down from the Bulldogs fan section.
“The team told me to spark up,” Adams said. “I’m a senior so … I had to. We played great. It was a big step up but it was a team thing on defense.”