Edgewood's boys basketball team battles more than just the opposition these days. The Rams also fight the curse of being a preseason No. 1 pick.
"Thanks to the sportscasters and sports writers, I have a marked team," said Edgewood coach Bob Slagle, with a laugh. "But as someone once said, I'd rather be picked first than picked last, because at least that means you have some talent."
The Rams have so much talent that even with two starters out of the lineup, they hammered John Carroll, 96-52, Wednesday afternoon. Four players scored in double figures, and the team shot 68 percent from the field.
They also out-rebounded the Patriots, 54-34. It didn't help that the Patriots' top inside threat, 6-3 Zack Thornton, got into early foul trouble and managed just four points and four rebounds.
"There's no way any one factor determined that game," said Patriots coach Bernie Mullin, whose squad plays in the MSA B Conference. "They are just a superior team. I hope they're the best team we have to play. I think they're going to go places."
Missing from that game were the Rams' 5-10 guard Brian Johnson and 6-1 forward Lawrence Worthington. Johnson sprained an ankle but should return this week. Worthington is out indefinitely for disciplinary reasons.
The Patriots (4-5), coming off a 77-66 loss to Aberdeen the night before, managed to stay close early on. But they simply couldn't keep up with the Rams' blistering pace, especially in the second half.
"We got the ball up and down the court," said the Rams' Steve Lewis (17 points, 11 rebounds). "Our style is running and quick, because we're a small team. If we stall and play another team's game, that's when we lag."
The Rams pushed the ball up on offense and used full-court pressure on defense. John Carroll turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes. Edgewood filled the passing lanes and Damon Bomar picked off three passes.
However, the Rams also played a sloppy first quarter, failing to capitalize on most of those opportunities and turning the ball over seven times.
"We had played 26 games with the same starting lineup until today (Wednesday), so it took us a while to adjust," said Slagle, whose team has gone 4-0 in its early-season non-league schedule.
The Patriots biggest lead, 15-13, came late in the first quarter as Brian McAveney polished off a three-point play. But the Rams came right back on Lewis' three-pointer and Bomar's put-back at the buzzer. Edgewood led, 18-15, at the end of the quarter and never gave up the lead.
Midway through the second quarter, the Rams pulled away, outscoring the Patriots, 17-2, in a 3 -minute stretch. By halftime, Edgewood led 37-25.
In the third quarter, the Patriots switched from their zone to a man-to-man defense and the Rams ran wild. This time, they put together a 19-point run to pull ahead 60-28 with 2:09 left in the quarter.
Leading 65-31 going into the fourth quarter, the Rams put on a shooting clinic. Lewis opened up with a couple of short jumpers and a driving layup to start the quarter in which the Rams shot almost 88 percent, hitting 14 of 16 shots. They finished off the game by hitting eight straight.
Bomar led Edgewood with 24 points, 17 rebounds and six steals. John Hobbs added 18 points and Maurice Boone, 17. Stash Rote led John Carroll with 15 points while Myron Cole added 12.
This week, the Rams go in search of some tough competition heading for their third appearance at the Meade Holiday Tournament. Glen Burnie, Old Mill and Meade round out the field for the tournament at Meade High School in Anne Arundel County.
"They are all (Class) 4A schools in that tournament. That's why we play it," said Slagle. "It doesn't count (toward points for the regional playoffs) and we want to get teams that will make you play and make you work. We try to convince our kids that there's tougher competition out there."
On Thursday, the Rams will open against Glen Burnie at 6 p.m. Old Mill will play Meade in the other bracket at 8. The consolation game is set for Friday at 6 p.m. with the championship to follow at 8 p.m.