COLLEGE PARK — Fairmont Heights last won a state championship in 1981, and based off the first four minutes of Saturday’s MPSSAA Class 1A state final against Edmondson-Westside, it appeared the championship drought would continue beyond 2017.
However, after the slow start, Fairmont Heights gained its grip to close out a 65-52 win to claim the school’s first state title in 36 years.
Fairmont Heights trailed Edmondson-Westside 10-1 with 4:06 to play in the first quarter, but the Hornet fought back with unwavering poise. The poise Fairmont Heights played with can be attributed to the trust that second-year coach Chuck Henry exuded in his young team by not calling a timeout after his team fell into an early hole.
“Ultimately, we try to remain calm with the guys,” Henry said. “If I’m panicking, these guys are going to panic.”
After Frankye Puckett, who scored 13 points, hit a midrange jumper for Edmondson-Westside to cap a 10-1 run to begin the game, Fairmont Heights exhibited their lack of panic by responding with a 10-2 run to close the opening quarter.
Fairmont Heights took their first lead of the game when Darren Lucas-White took the ball into the lane and hit a contested layup. Lucas-White (15 points) scored six consecutive points in the span of just over one minute to give the Hornets their largest lead of the first half at 27-22.
The Red Storm answered the challenge by scoring eight of the next nine points to take a 30-28 lead into halftime.
The third quarter was a closely contested affair, as no team led by more than four points. Fairmont Heights recaptured the lead when Shemmari Miles converted a layup midway through the third quarter.
The Hornets’ leading scorer, Lucas-White, who came into the state semifinals averaging 20 points per game, left the game late in the third quarter with an injury sustained to his wrist.
While this may have seemed to spell trouble for Fairmont Heights, who held just a one-point advantage going into the fourth quarter, Lucas-White’s absence was negated by the team shooting over 80 percent in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a big time player for us,” Yearlarndo Reed said. “When he got injured, we knew we had to step up.”
Reed was one of the players who stepped up in the fourth quarter, as he scored nine of his 17 points in the final quarter, including one of his three made three pointers in the game.
With the desire to end the championship drought, the Hornets’ defense held the Red Storm’s offense to just nine points on 17 percent shooting in the fourth quarter. Fairmont Heights outscored their opposition 21-9 to pull away and obtain the state championship hardware.
“Thirty-six years is a long time to wait,” Henry said. “Ultimately, I’m humbled by what we got accomplished today.”