Chris Bohlen isn't going to be picky. At this point in the season, the sixth-year Wootton coach knows that the only thing that matters in playoff basketball is the final score, regardless of what it took to get there.
So, despite the fact that his Patriots almost let an 18-point halftime lead slip away in a matter of minutes in the third quarter, all that Bohlen was concerned with after the game was that the Wootton Patriots managed to hold off the second-half surge by the visiting Walter Johnson Wildcats and escape with a 48-44 win in the opening round of the 4A West basketball playoffs. And Bohlen will take it.
"It feels absolutely tremendous to get a first round playoff win," Bohlen said. "It means a lot to move on. We're at the point in the season where all we want to do is win and advance. They made it interesting, to say the least. Walter Johnson really played their tails off in the second half but I'm proud of our guys. We showed a lot of fortitude there down the stretch which is what you want to see at this point in the season."
Wootton's leading scorer Friday night, Eddie Tsao (13 points), echoed his coach's sentiments after the game.
"I'm just feeling relieved that we got past the first round," Tsao said. "A lot of people have been knocking Wootton sports for not being able to get past the first round of the playoffs so it felt good to get the win tonight for our fans."
The Patriots (14-9) started off the game in complete control, setting the tempo early as they quickly jumped out to an 8-0 lead four minutes into the opening quarter. WJ (11-10) didn't get on the board until 3:55 left in the first quarter but the Wildcats quickly rattled off five straight points to cut it to 8-5 with 3:43 left in the opening period. But the Patriots closed out the quarter on a 6-0 run, including the game's first 3-pointer from senior guard Willis Ibeh (10 points) to make it 16-5 after one quarter.
Neither team was able to find a rhythm in the second quarter and six minutes into the period, both teams had only managed to score two points apiece. But once again, Wootton closed out the quarter strong, scoring eight points in the final two minutes to take a commanding lead at the break, 27-9.
It was the lowest scoring half for the Wildcats all season long. But the second half told a different story, as Walter Johnson began to chip away at the Patriots' lead and by the time the third quarter was about to come to a close, the Wildcats trailed just 34-26. But a foul at the buzzer led to the Patriots earning three free throw attempts and Kyle Weissenburger made all three to give Wootton a 37-26 advantage with eight minutes to play.
Once again, though, WJ refused to go away and with 3:40 to play had inched within two points, 40-38, with all the momentum swinging its way. But Wootton senior Chad Rudden hit a 3-pointer that put the Pariots back up by five, 43-38, with 3:22 to play and Wootton was able to hold on from there for the win.
After the game, Bohlen said that shot was a game-changer.
"That was huge," Bohlen said. "Chad's been shooting the ball really well and this is the point in the season where you like to see seniors start to step up and seize the moment."
With the win, Wootton moves on to the Maryland 4A West regional quarterfinals against Richard Montgomery, a team Wootton split the regular season series with. Bohlen said he will focus this week on correcting some of the mistakes that plagued his team in the second half.
Ibeh also stated how remaining focused in the second half of games will be key as the playoffs progress.
"We came out strong in the first half, but we just broke down mentally a little bit there in the second half," Ibeh said. "We definitely have to do better in the next round staying focused and just make sure we come out in the second half with more energy."
Senior guard Antonio Frazier led WJ with 12 points while Harrison Gibert finished with 11. Wooton's Benjy Sokobin ended with 10 points.
After the game, first-year WJ coach Mark Karver reflected on his first season with the Wildcats.
"It was an amazing experience with amazing players. I wish I had these guys for four years from JV on," Karver said. "We did exactly what we wanted to do. We hit a bump in the road toward the end of the season but we bounced back and finished strong. We just needed a couple things to go our way tonight and it could've been a different outcome."