As much as Thorin Stage did offensively Thursday night — and it was plenty — the Hagerstown junior’s defensive effort was just as important to the Tigers’ hopes of a repeat.
Stage hounded Lincoln sharpshooter Ben Singer all night. And while Singer ended with 19 points, Stage made the junior earn every bit of them.
Lincoln made Hagerstown earn every bit of Thursday’s win, too. The Tigers survived a fourth-quarter onslaught from the Golden Eagles, holding on to win a 56-54 thriller to keep their goal of earning a second straight Wayne County Tournament title alive.
“I love playing for championships,” said Stage, who scored a game-high 26 points.
Hagerstown (6-2) will face the winner of tonight’s Northeastern-Centerville game at 7:45 p.m. Saturday in the boys basketball final.
The Tigers nearly didn’t get there. Lincoln, trailing 45-36 to start the fourth quarter, put together a 15-2 run to take a 51-47 lead with 4:22 remaining.
It was nip-and-tuck from there.
Hagerstown responded with seven straight points — five from Stage — but Lincoln tied it 54-54 with 29 seconds left on a 3-pointer from Ian Bloom.
Stage made two more free throws to again give the Tigers the lead — and to set up a thrilling finish to the first night of the county tourney.
Lincoln (3-4) had a chance to win with a 3-point attempt from the corner, but the ball hit rim and bounced off. Hagerstown’s Jared Andis chased down the rebound, effectively ending the game and giving the Tigers the victory.
It was a victory Hagerstown coach Bobby Jones was glad to get, but he was also quick to credit his opposition.
“Somehow we found a way to win, but I’m going to tell you right now, all the credit goes to the kids over there in that other locker room,” Jones said, pointing in Lincoln’s direction. “They executed their game plan to a T. They listened to their coach the entire game.
“They outhustled us. They outrebounded us. We just happened to make a couple more plays.”
Lincoln slowed the tempo to start the game, with Singer canning a pair of 3-pointers for a quick 6-0 lead that stood at 8-5 after one quarter.
Stage stuck to Singer like glue after that. Singer had just three more points in the first half, all off free throws, and he was able to connect on two more 3s in the second half — both with Stage right in his face.
“Thorin does a great job defensively,” said Lincoln coach Rodney Klein. “He gets not enough credit for as good a defender as he is. He gets in people’s face. He defends well. He knows when to use his arms, when not to. Very intelligent player.
“He did a good job on Ben, but give Ben some credit. He made some nice moves, good couple of step backs, good penetration in the lane.”
Added Stage: “I play defense. I love defense. Defense is fun to play.”
Trevor Gabbard scored 12 points for Lincoln, while Evan Underwood scored 10 to go with a game-high nine rebounds. Bloom scored eight and Singer finished with six rebounds.
“I liked the way our kids fought,” Klein said. “I thought we stayed with the game plan. We were in no hurry.
” … I thought we did a really good job of executing things.”
Bryan Mathews scored 14 points for the Tigers, with Stage grabbing eight rebounds. Andis finished with six rebounds and five points, Matthias Ritter swished two key treys and Martin Block added five rebounds.
“We got out and started pressuring the ball,” Stage said.
Thursday’s game was a rematch of last year’s championship, which went to Hagerstown 79-50.
The Tigers winning last year’s title ended a streak of eight straight county crowns for Centerville.
“It’s something that we’ve been thinking about since Day One, is winning everything we can, county tourney, sectional,” Block said. ” … We’re going to go on the court and get our job done.”