As the deficit continued to mount, Sherrod Baltimore never lost his cool. With each timeout, the Friendly Patriots’ senior point guard continued to strut to his bench and tell his coach that they would find victory somewhere, even if a stunned crowd couldn’t see it coming.

Baltimore plays both football and basketball for Friendly but he may have to add a new role to his high school resume: prophet. Behind his 38 points, the Friendly Patriots overcame an 18-point fourth quarter deficit to topple the La Plata Warriors, 95-88, in double overtime at Wise High School on March 5 to claim a trip to the Maryland State Finals. The victory was the 22nd straight for Friendly.

Friendly will travel to Maryland University’s Comcast Center on March 10 to participate in the state finals, an event that didn’t seem likely at the close of the third quarter against La Plata. La Plata ran Friendly ragged for much of the game as junior forward Juwan Wells and senior guard Royce Hunsberger took turns scoring to push Friendly to their largest deficit since an 18-point margin against Douglass in early February, a game the Patriots also came from behind to win.

Their latest comeback however, came at a time when Friendly needed it most, and they pulled it out in stunning fashion to push their winning streak to 22 games.

“It was amazing,” said senior Friendly guard Michael Johnson. “Being down 18…experience really helped us out. It was just amazing how it happened. ”

Friendly trailed 62-44 at the end of the third quarter but a 20-6 run to start the final quarter narrowed the score to 68-64 with just over a minute left in regulation. Friendly took a 72-70 lead after two free throws from Baltimore, but Wells found a wide-open teammate underneath the basket with two seconds left to send the game into overtime. Friendly had a chance to ice the game in the first overtime but four missed free throws over the last minute and a half of play allowed La Plata to force a second overtime. It was then that Friendly finally seized control after a few turnovers and Wells’ fouling out put La Plata in a hole.

“We started turning the ball over and we made mistakes,” Wells said. “We gave the game away.”

After starting the season 1-3, Friendly (23-3) has won 22 straight games entering their playoff run. La Plata (17-8) may have had the early lead on the Fort Washington, Md. school, but as evidenced by their winning streak, Friendly doesn’t quit.

“I’ve had some proud moments of our guys,” Friendly coach Rob Garner said after the game. “And I am proud. Guys work hard, man. They didn’t quit and they could have, but they didn’t. I looked at my point guard and he kept coming over to the sidelines and telling me that ‘we ain’t gonna lose’ and if Sherrod Baltimore’s not the player of the year in this area then I don’t know who should be.”

After forecasting a win, Baltimore stopped short of calling himself a fortuneteller, but he did admit that things rarely go wrong when you’re living a fantasy.

“This season is a dream,” Baltimore said. “I don’t even know what our record is but this season has been a dream so far. I told ‘This ain’t over, watch what I do.’ I knew we wasn’t going to lose.”

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO