"I've never been so nervous in a game. I had so many butterflies it was unbelievable."
There's nothing strange about a high school athlete coming down with a case of the jitters before a season-opening game, but Northeast's Gene Pleyo seemed the least likely candidate.
Yet, the senior point guard couldn't buy a basket during the first 16 minutes of Friday night's contest at Glen Burnie, going a frosty0-for-8 from the floor. His last shot of the half, from three-point range, missed the rim completely.
In all, an effort hardly befitting a second-team All-County selection and the Eagles' only returning full-time starter.
"I guess everybody is expecting me to do well, and maybe I put more pressure on myself than I should have. I can't do that," he said.
Pleyo would make a full recovery in the second half, as would the Eagles, who rallied for a 60-51 win.
"He was just cold. I didn't think he was forcing a lot of shots," Northeast coach John Barbour said of Pleyo, who scored 16 points, 13 in the second half. Last season, he averaged 14.3 points and became the school's all-time leader in assists.
Many of Pleyo's running mates from last winter are gone, including first-team All-County shooting guard SteveStrauss, who more than anyone benefited from Pleyo's generosity.
The 6-3 Strauss averaged 19.2 points a game and exited Northeast as the career leader in three-pointers with 84. He also tied school records for most three-pointers (six) and most points (38) in a game.
The graduation of Strauss, Craig Everett and Zach Herold leaves Pleyo as the only proven scorer. And "the man we can go to in the clutch," Barbour said.
"But he's always done a good job of playing within himself. He knows he can't do it alone."
Beginning his fourth varsity season, Pleyo learned Friday that he doesn't have to perform as a one-man show. Seniors Chad Sanschagrin (11 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks), Scott Rey (17 points) and Chad O'Brien (10 points) administered the lesson.
"I know now that I don't need to score a lot for us to win. I don't need to be the main gun," he said.
Still, it doesn't hurt.
Pleyo's first field goal, a three-pointer, came with 1 minute, 42 seconds left in the third quarter and cut into Glen Burnie's largest lead of the night, 39-30. He hit a bank shot with 10 seconds remaining, and his two free throws after a steal and foul with sixminutes left in the game brought Northeast within one point, 43-42.
His offensive rebound and turnaround jumper in the lane with underfour minutes left again brought the Eagles within one. And he helpedNortheast take the lead for good, 48-47, on its next possession whenhe whipped a pass inside to Sanschagrin for a layup.
He added twofree throws and another bank shot in the final 20 seconds, as the visitors scored 16 of the game's last 20 points.
Junior Vernon Osborne led Glen Burnie with 19 points.