Kilo Mack had played at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House before, but somehow the surroundings didn't seem so familiar Fridayafternoon.
Joppatowne's senior point guard didn't have to score many points in his last College Park appearance, when the Mariners wonthe Class 1A state title last March.
This year, things turned out differently.
In the state Class 1A semifinals Friday, Mack scored 19 points and nailed six rebounds, three assists and a couple of steals. He led the Mariners to a 56-39 victory over Williamsport.
The Mariners (19-4) were to play Pokomoke, 75-72 winners over Brunswick in the semifinals, for the championship yesterday.
(Edgewood also reached the state semifinals, but theRams (23-1) played in Friday's 9 p.m. game, which concluded after The Harford County Sun's deadline. )
For Joppatowne, trying to duplicate last year's triumph has brought on a pressure-packed season. All along, the goal had been to return to Cole Field House.
"It's a lot harder to come back," said the 6-0 Mack, one of three starters back from last year's title squad.
"Last year, I was playing with a 6-6, 6-5, 6-4 lineup. This year, I had 6-5, 6-0, 5-11."
Mack and the other returning starters, 6-5 center Kevin Hockaday and 6-0 forward B. J. Barnes, have played only seven games together in the 1990-1991 season. Each had down time for an injury.
Said Joppatowne coach Mike Bauer, "When you look at what this team has accomplished, some people have really overlooked us since we lost our first game."
In Friday's game, Williamsport (14-12) knew exactly how to upset the Mariners' game plan. The Wildcats used a zone and packed it tight tryingto shut down Hockaday.
"They clearly knew about our team," Bauer said. "They decided, 'Kevin Hockaday is not going to beat us; somebody else is going to beat us.' That caused us considerable trouble."
Hockaday only managed four field goals in the game, but he finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. He was perfect in five chances from the free-throw line.
With Hockaday under wraps inside, the Mariners struggled early, falling behind, 18-15, midway through the secondquarter.
The Mariners were impatient on offense. Hockaday was frustrated. His teammates couldn't get the ball to him.
"We were forcing it in there a couple of times," Mack said. "But coach told us to work it around and pull the ball out, so they would come out and playus."
After Mack hit a couple of free throws, some quick passing on the perimeter opened up a 15-footer for Joppatowne's Jermaine Head.
The Mariners took a 22-21 lead into halftime thanks to Terrance Cain. The junior guard launched about a 35-footer with 10 seconds to go to the halftime. It banked off the glass and then in.
The Mariners never again trailed.
In the second half, Bauer gambled by putting on full-court pressure to pick up the tempo. At home, the Marinershad gotten into trouble several times trying to run with some of their Harford County foes.
"I thought if we could get the lead they would have to come out on us," Bauer explained. "The only advantage wehad was that we were quicker, so we took advantage of it with the press. Sometimes that can be dangerous, because we can go haywire."
But the press worked -- especially in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats pulled within 35-32 on the first bucket of the quarter, but couldn't hold on to the ball. Joppatowne outscored the Wildcats, 13-2, for a50-35 lead with two minutes left.
Cain finished with 13 points and five rebounds for the Mariners, while Barnes added nine points, three assists and six steals.