"Jess Harlee, who scored 28 points and made two key free throws late, is smothered by her teammates after Fallston beat defending champion Paint Branch, 65-62, during the Class 3A Maryland basketball championship at UMBC's RAC Arena, Saturday, March 14, 2009. With the win, Fallston celebrated the school's first basketball state championship and posted a perfect, 28-0, season."
A big part of me is glad high school basketball season is over, but after finishing the season with one of the best women's games I've ever seen, and a historic one at that, I sort of miss it.
Living not far from Fallston high school, I grew up battling against them every year. It was my high school's biggest rival, especially in lacrosse.
That's beside the point; I knew that this game was much more than another state championship game in Maryland.
Fallston was entering their first state championship game and were posting an undefeated season. Not to mention, they were under direction of an intermediate coach, as their head coach was out this season for medical issues.
If those things weren't pressure enough, they were posted up against Paint Branch, the defending Class 3A Maryland basketball champions.
This game was slated to be a great match up, and for Fallston, it was going to be a display of raw emotions no matter what the outcome. I was sure tears would be visible if they went undefeated, and obviously, if they were unable to capture the perfect season.
As per usual, I showed up early and the arena was packed. More than 3,000 fans were in attendance for this game. My college didn't even get that many people for football, lacrosse and basketball games combined.
After the tip, the game was action packed. The game was fairly close, see-sawing back and forth, between the two schools. But the real action came in the final quarter.
Fallston was down by seven with under a minute left in the third quarter. To say I was rooting for them would be wrong, but deep down inside I was. I wanted to have them not only knock off the raining champs, but capture that perfect moment and season.
As the fourth quarter began, they jumped out fast and turned the game around in their favor. They took a 48-44 lead after an 18-2 run.
They seemed confident, and before I knew it, then they were running away with the game as they had a commanding, 59-48, lead with about a minute left.
I was starting to plan my approach to the celebration and moved down toward Fallston's bench after a time out.
But as with all basketball games, the final minute turned into 20 minutes. That huge lead had vanished and Paint Branch was within two points of ruining they're perfect run. The score was 63-62 with about five seconds left.
I know my hands were sweating and my heart was pounding, but so was Fallston's Jess Harlee's.
After being fouled by Paint Branch to stop the clock, she stood at the free-throw line with seconds left, clinching her chest
, looking like she was going to pass out. But she hit two clutch free throws with 3.3 seconds left as Fallston held off Paint Branch, 65-62, for the title.
The Cougars rushed the court and smothered Harlee. Literally, the crowd went wild.
It all happened so fast, and my deadline was past, but the paper wanted a reaction shot, and so I waited to move any images. In a matter of maybe three minutes, I captured the frame of the jubilation, downloaded, edited, captioned, and moved it over to the paper.
I initially moved this frame here
. The first moment of pure joy. But after going back, I liked the posted image better, where the team really started to pile on nanoseconds later. I still can't pick which I like better. What do you think?
It was a great adrenaline rush to end the basketball season, and one helluva game, too.
As for Harlee, she was probably the star of the school the next day. She scored 19points in the fourth quarter alone, including 10-for-12 from the free-throw line, not to mention, two clutch free-throws.