B. J. Barnes couldn't have returned to Joppatowne's basketball lineup at a better time.
The 6-foot-1 senior guard missed the first half of the season while recovering from a broken foot suffered during football season. He returned to the lineup a week ago against Havre deGrace and then added 15 points in a win over Rising Sun Wednesday.
Although the Mariners probably could have beaten Havre de Grace and Rising Sun without Barnes, they will need him this week.
The Mariners (10-0) are in the midst of a killer stretch that started with Bel Air Friday night and continues this week with Aberdeen, Edgewood and Fallston -- all on the road. The Edgewood game was snowed out Jan. 11.
Barnes, whom Bauer calls his best defensive player, gives the Mariners some added quickness, as well as a scoring punch.
In Wednesday's rout of Rising Sun, 80-29, the Mariners got 30 points from 6-5 center Kevin Hockaday and 13 from Kilo Mack.
Coach Mike Bauer and the Mariners hope to keep building on their undefeated record, but they know it won't be easy.
Edgewood also is undefeated in the league. Aberdeen's only loss came against Edgewood. Those two also will have a rematch this week.
"We've been down this road before," said Bauer, whose 1989 team was 12-0 before suffering a loss and whose 1990 team went 19-0 before losing.
The Mariners may need some breaks against Aberdeen and Edgewood.
Both of those opponents play a different style of game than the Mariners' patient inside offense. TheRams and Eagles like to race, and both are looking to run Joppatowneoff the court.
If the Mariners can hold off Bel Air and Aberdeen,the matchup against Edgewood could be key to determining the county champion.
Joppatowne coach Mike Bauer said the team will go intothe game as underdogs. "On paper, Edgewood is the strongest team in the county. They have experience at every position, where we're inexperienced at three."
The Rams play a fast game, and Bauer will tryto slow it down.
"If it's a 100-mile-an-hour game, we're going to get beat," said Bauer.
"The only chance is if we play a half-court game, isolate Hockaday and get him the ball. They have the quickness and the perimeter game, and I'm not sure if we can match up with them man-to-man."
Edgewood coach Bob Slagle has plenty of respect for the Mariners.
"They are very strong. They put up the big numbers on us last year. There's a lot of emotion, because the kids all know each other. It's a neighborhood rivalry."
Said Bauer, "If we'restill sitting pretty two weeks from now, I'll feel a little more confident we're in good shape,"
Tuesday's games have Fallston at Edgewood and Joppatowne at Aberdeen. Wednesday, Joppatowne travels to Edgewood. Friday, Edgewood is at Aberdeen, and Joppatowne goes to Fallston. All games tip off at 6:45.