All season long, Joppatowne basketball coach Mike Baue said, the Mariners had overcome adversity.
No matter that they returned three starters from last year's Class 1A state champions. They had lost three frontcourt regulars from that team, two measuring 6 feet 5, the other 6-4. They had just four seniors on the team, all starting, and no experienced depth.
That the Mariners (20-4) defended that championship Saturday at Cole Field House, 67-47 over Pocomoke, may have surprised nearly everyone close to the Joppatowne basketball program. That they did it with a 37-point fourth-quarter explosion (six short of the tournament record) left everyone in the building stunned.
"You don't win two state championships with kids that quit," said Bauer. "We've had so many injuries this year. We only had eight games with our three returning starters together."
One of them, 6-0 forward B.J. Barnes, missed the first eight games with a broken foot. When he came back the Mariners' star center, 6-5, 225-pound Kevin Hockaday, sat five games with a badly sprained ankle.
In Hockaday's absence the Mariners had to change their offense and change it back again when he returned. They lost four out of five in a midseason slump. "We had talent, but we had young talent this year," Hockaday said. "Somebody was always hurt. That's why we lost our four games this year.
"We all wanted to get back [to Cole] to win it again. It was kind of a surprise to me because of the depth. And the court is longer there than we usually play on, so you get tired faster."
But it didn't tire senior guard Terrence Cain, who scored 18 of his 23 points in that fourth-quarter eruption. Or Barnes, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Or Hockaday, with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Hockaday, a tri-captain with Barnes and point guard Kilo Mack, averaged 21.8 points and 15.7 rebounds this year. And for two years in a row he's been second on the team in assists. "Kevin is one of the best passing big men we've had," Bauer said. "You don't like to do it as a coach, but I had to push Kevin to shoot the ball more."
Hockaday will likely attend a junior college next year. He needs to adjust to a new position at the next level of competition. "I'm going to work on my outside game to be a swingman or guard," he said. Some of the country's top JUCO programs have been in touch and, among local schools, he's considering Allegany, Garrett and Hagerstown junior colleges.
"I see him as a Charles Barkley type," said Bauer. "He's the only kid we've had for four years on the varsity here. His outside shooting and defense have improved. I'm pleased, totally, with his progress, not only as a player, but as a person. He's not a rah-rah kid, but every day he finished first in suicide drills after a two-hour practice. Other kids see that from a star player and they run hard."
And, Bauer said, "One other thing -- I don't know one kid at our school, black or white or whatever, who doesn't like him."