Whitman Springs Title Upset

Michael Gruner races upcourt as the clock runs out on Whitman's win.
Michael Gruner races upcourt as the clock runs out on Whitman's win. "And they said we couldn't beat these guys!" Gruner exclaimed after the game. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2006

The thousands of Whitman fans started chanting his name before the opening tip, and standout guard Michael Gruner made sure it will be remembered for quite some time.

In a game that will go down as one of the biggest upsets in Maryland tournament history, Gruner scored 23 points, including the decisive free throw with 35 seconds left, as the seventh-ranked Vikings shocked fourth-ranked Eleanor Roosevelt, 39-38, in the Maryland 4A championship game last night before 9,000 at Comcast Center.

"And they said we couldn't beat these guys!" Gruner exclaimed as the Vikings accepted their championship trophies.

"No one gave us a chance against Magruder" in the 4A West Region final, Gruner said afterward. "They didn't think we could beat Magruder. Then we got to Comcast Center and it's, 'Oh, we had a good season. Oh, they're playing Eleanor Roosevelt, they'll lose by 50. It won't be a close game.' It's so awesome to be a state champion. Who else do we have to beat before people stop doubting us?"

It was a stunning result. Roosevelt (25-2) entered the final with a 14-game winning streak and a roster that included several Division I college prospects. Whitman, on the other hand, had Gruner, who has yet to receive a college scholarship offer, and a supporting cast that was short on depth. The Vikings' starters played all but eight minutes in last night's game; Gruner accounted for all but two of his team's points in the first half, with an assist on the other basket.

However, with a solid defensive effort and a few clutch shots, Whitman (24-3) stayed close.

Gruner and Mikey Fitzpatrick each made a pair of three-pointers during a critical 12-0 run in the third quarter that changed the game. The Vikings went from trailing 23-15 to leading 27-23, Gruner had some help he could count on and, most importantly, Whitman was teeming with confidence.

"I think that made our guys believe," Whitman Coach Chris Lun said. "We were down eight to those guys. We've got the lead now, we've got a shot."

Roosevelt rallied to tie the game three times, including at 36 on a three-pointer from the left corner by Jon Ntoko with two minutes left.

On Whitman's ensuing possession, Gruner drove toward the basket and fed Antony Ngunjiri for a basket. Ntoko countered with two free throws to tie it at 38 with 1 minute 6 seconds left.

Gruner, battling cramps in his calves, was fouled the next time down the floor and went to the line for a one-and-one. He made the first free throw, but missed the second. The 39-38 lead, however, would stand up.

Gruner partially deflected a three-point shot on Roosevelt's next possession. After a Whitman turnover, Roosevelt missed a three-point try and Fitzpatrick was fouled. He missed the front end of a one-and-one with 5.7 seconds left, but Roosevelt was out of timeouts and its last-gasp shot caromed off the rim.

Ntoko led Roosevelt with 12 points, but the Raiders finished with their lowest point total of the season.

"We all believe in our guys, but do I think anyone else thought we could win this game? Absolutely not," Lun said. "But the belief these guys have in each other, how do you count against it?

"We've said all along that [Gruner] is the best player in [Montgomery] County. He proved tonight he's one of the best players in the state."

No. 7 Whitman 39, No. 4 Eleanor Roosevelt 38 Key Run: Michael Gruner and Mikey Fitzpatrick each made a pair of three-pointers during a 12-0 run in the third quarter as Whitman rallied from an eight-point deficit to take a 27-23 lead; the Vikings never trailed again. For the Books: It was the first state title for Whitman, which had lost in its previous three championship game appearances.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company