COLLEGE PARK – Bladensburg Boys’ Basketball Head Coach Antonio Williams walked by each one of his players, hugging them before they received their Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) State Finalist medals. As he accepted the trophy representing second place, the rugged Williams lifted it over his head and presented the prize to all the fans in attendance.
In his eyes, Bladensburg did not conquer the state title but accomplished more.
“We have a broken community, and we have different neighborhoods that go to the same school that potentially do not like each other,” Williams said. “But you saw those people tonight together, and you saw our community together, and these guys understand it. Right now, it hasn’t hit them, but when they go back to school, it’s going to hit them.”
In their first state finals appearance since 1978, the Mustangs led for more than two quarters and looked poised to make a stunning upset. However, their dreams were dashed by a determined Perry Hall team led by senior LaQuill Hardnett’s 31-point performance. The Gators won the war against the Prince George’s county squad to win their second-straight state championship with a 56-52 victory at the Xfinity Center in College Park on March 10.
Although they ended their regular season with a losing record, the Mustangs (15-13) battled through the treacherous 4A South to become regional champions. Senior star forward Daniel Oladapo’s double-double achievement of 27 points and 11 rebounds lifted Bladensburg past Old Mill High School in the semifinals on March 8, setting up the opportunity to win its first state title since 1973.
After a seesaw start versus Perry Hall (21-6), Bladensburg broke free in the second half, mainly on the shooting of guard Joshua Williamson. The senior, who started the season on the bench, pushed the Mustangs to a 10-2 run with seven points. As time expired, Williamson connected on a long ranged three-pointer, giving Bladensburg a six-point advantage at halftime.
“I knew I had found my rhythm and Tyshaun (Walker) and (Oladapo) know where I am going to be in the corner, my favorite spot to shoot,” Williamson said. “I knew that I had to be ready in case they passed it to me to shoot, locate the rim and get the shot over their tallest defender.”
However, the defending champions slowly built momentum in the second half with Hardnett, a University of Cincinnati commit, leading the way to cut the lead down by five. Even as Bladensburg scored five unanswered points before the end of the quarter, the senior scored 13 straight points for the Gators through the fourth quarter.
The Mustang defense attempted to suffocate passing lanes, but it opened the door for Hardnett to attack the paint for quick points. He went on a 9-0 run of his own, ending it with a three-point play off a finger-roll layup foul, giving Perry Hall their first lead since the opening quarter. Hardnett posed flexing toward the Maroon-filled fans after the foul, signaling that the dream was coming to an end. Perry Hall then continued the hot streak, flying to a 10-3 run afterward.
Bladensburg battled back in the final two minutes by cutting the Gators lead to four. Oladapo attempted a quick three-pointer with five seconds remaining, but the ball never touched the rim, putting an end to their Cinderella run.
“(Hardnett) started driving…and the best team won,” Williams said. “We had a great gameplan, which we had only 24 hours to plan for, but we did an excellent job to get this (far).”
Oladapo finished his high school career with his second consecutive double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds. He announced that he plans to complete a prep year at either the IMG Academy in Florida or Putnam Science Academy located in Connecticut while confirming interest from St. Bonaventure and Louisiana Tech.
Players were disappointed, but limited tears fell from their faces. In their eyes, they completed a heroic journey that was not expected of them while bringing together a neighborhood and county rivals together for one purpose: to watch them play.