The main ingredients for Carver's two Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference basketball titles over the past two seasons were defense and guards. But this season, it has been offense and a front line featuring seniors Rodney Black and Michael Richardson.
The two have ranked among the area's top 20 scorers all season. Only Dunbar, Lake Clifton and Northwestern also boast twosomes with those kinds of numbers.
Richardson, a 6-foot-3 forward, leads the team in scoring at 22.5. Black, a 6-5 center, averages 19.4. They are clearly the leaders for Carver, which plays host to McDonogh in a B Conference playoff semifinal Feb. 25. The winner advances to the championship game March 1 at the Baltimore Arena as part of the Metro Classic.
"Before the season, we talked a lot and said this is our last year and it's time for us step up and get back to the Metro Classic," said Richardson. "Mr. Jackson [Carver coach Durce Jackson] has looked to us to be leaders on the team because we're seniors. I think we knew we would have a pretty good season."
Black said Carver's 15-3 record overall and 12-1 mark in Division II (the league's best) were not expected after losing so many seniors from last year's team that beat Edmondson in the championship game.
"I'm a little surprised," said Black. "We knew we had to pick up the scoring slack, so me and Mike stepped up and start scoring more, and we'll continue until we go back [to the MSA B Conference title game]."
Black, who also averages more than 10 rebounds and three blocks, has a knack for using the backboard around the paint. Richardson is a great leaper who has a nice shooting touch from about 17 feet. His ball-handling skills have been helpful against opponents' half- and full-court pressure.
In recent weeks, opponents have been using several different zone defenses to stop Carver's dynamic duo, but the two continue to combine for more than half the Bears' points (756 of 1,398).
"When they get the ball inside, they are very unselfish," said Jackson. "They look for each other. It's very difficult to stop two guys in the paint who have very good moves. They complement each other well."
The compatibility of Black and Richardson did not happen overnight. They are cousins who have been close since they were young. Both played one year on the junior varsity under coach Lynn Badham before moving up to the varsity last season.
However, they did not get much of a chance to play together last season. Black averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds, but a nagging ankle injury slowed Richardson. He did show signs of promise in the championship game against Edmondson with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Brad Francis won the 100-yard butterfly and Brian Brandt took the 50 freestyle to help Calvert Hall capture the National Catholic Swimming Championships on Sunday at Villanova University.
The Cardinals, competing in a field of more than 30 teams, scored 219 points to runner-up St. Joseph of New Jersey's 164. Calvert Hall also won two relays, the 200 medley and 400 freestyle.
Don't tell Hammond's wrestling team that 13 is a bad-luck number. It represents the Bears' number of dual-meet victories and the number of school records they have broken this season.
The records are: wins (13); fewest losses (one, 29-27 to Chopticon); county-league wins (seven); highest dual-meet score (66-5 over South Carroll); pins in a dual meet (nine vs. South Carroll); takedowns in a dual meet (24); takedowns in a season (405); takedowns in a tournament (61); total dual-meet points (686); individual bouts won (310); longest winning streak (eight); tournament falls (22), and wrestlers with 20 wins (six).
The Bears should add to the last record, with three wrestlers who have 19 wins and two with 15 heading into this weekend's Howard County tournament at Atholton. In addition, they have amassed 129 total pins -- two shy of the school record.
None of the Bears has a losing record: Dan Proulx (103, 20-7-1), John Motley (112, 21-9-2), Brian Law (119, 6-5), Erin Woodward (125, 15-4-2), Chris Williams (130, 19-6-1), Chris Mercurio (135, 21-5- 1), Josh Stokes (140, 23-7), Jerroyd Goode (145, 15-11-1), Mac Goudy (152, 20-6- 1), Jeff Davis (160, 10-7), Pat Brennan (189, 19-8-1) and heavyweight Jesse Pitt (19-9).
Goudy (6-0-1) and Stokes (7-0, all pins) are unbeaten against Howard County foes. Mercurio tops the school's career list in takedowns (112), escapes (80), pins (47) and tournament record (49-21).
Hammond has won the Frederick Douglass and Southern tournaments and placed fourth at Lackey, in addition to beating rival Oakland Mills, 31-29, to end the Scorpions' county dual-meet winning streak at 25.
Despite those accomplishments, only one Hammond wrestler -- Proulx -- received a top seed in this weekend's county tournament, more proof of coach Bill Smith's belief that his team still is viewed as an underdog to Oakland Mills.
"So far, we've reached all of the goals we've set for ourselves," said Smith, who last season coached Hammond's first state champion, James Burrell. "But we're still having trouble gaining respect in the county. This weekend, we're really going to have to prove ourselves."
This is the weekend for county wrestling tournaments. In addition to the Howard County tournament at Atholton on Friday and Saturday, the Baltimore County tournament will be at Chesapeake; the Anne Arundel County tournament will be at at South River and the Harford County tournament will be at Fallston.
Defending county team champs are Owings Mills (Baltimore), Oakland Mills (Howard), Aberdeen (Harford) and Old Mill (Arundel).
OVERTIME: Harford Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation will present a coaches clinic on the prevention and care of athletic injuries from 6 to 9 p.m. March 2 at the Bel Air High School library. Enrollment is limited. Donation is $5. For reservations, call (410) 879-7769.