On a chilly Saturday afternoon in early November, Dunbar and Southern engaged in a 30-minute scrimmage. The 25 persons who witnessed probably didn't realize it would be the only meeting between the preseason Nos. 1 and 2 squads.
Four months later, the teams will be on the same court at Cole Field House for the MPSSAA semifinals, beginning today. The Poets and Bulldogs are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, and won't be meeting each other.
"It's kind of different," Southern junior guard Kevin Simpson said. "We're not familiar with teams that we'll be playing, but hopefully we and Dunbar can win the states for the city."
Southern (19-5) will meet Thomas Johnson of Frederick County in today's 5 p.m. Class 3A semifinal, preceding No. 11 Catonsville (19-5) against Potomac at 3 in the other 3A semifinal. The Poets (18-4) will play Fallston (14-11) in a Class 1A semifinal tomorrow at 5 p.m.
Poets coach Pete Pompey, who was opposed to the city schools joining the MPSSAA last year, is excited about the opportunity to add a state championship banner to Dunbar's gymnasium.
"We're looking forward to it," he said. "Everybody always wants to be involved in playing for a championship. That's what you work for.
"It's a different situation. We looked at what happened to Lake Clifton [which lost to High Point in Class 4A, Region II] and hopefully, whoever is with us, we can go to Cole Field House and represent Baltimore City."
As expected, Dunbar, ranked No. 22 in this week USA Today Super 25 poll, hasn't broken a sweat in reaching Cole Field House, beating Brunswick by 42 and Milford Mill by 40 in the Region II playoffs last week.
But Southern may be the area's hottest team, winning its past 12 (and 14 of 16) and taking the Region III title by an average of 19 points, including victories over No. 4 Walbrook (80-65) and No. 7 Southwestern (69-55).
Southern will match up with Thomas Johnson (21-2), which will be aiming for a sixth state championship. Coach Tom Dickman, with five state titles to his credit, has Phil Williams, a 6-foot-7 senior center, who will play for Penn State next season.
While Dunbar and Southern will be making their inaugural state final four appearance, Catonsville is back for a third consecutive time, after outlasting Aberdeen, 80-77, in overtime for the Region II title Friday.
The Comets, the defending state champions, didn't look like they would be in that position after losing two of their last three regular-season games to Woodlawn and Dundalk.
"I think that was a wake-up call for us," said Catonsville coach Art Gamzon. "Our goal was to get the top seed in the region and to win it."
In their attempt to be the first Baltimore County team to win back-to-back titles, the Comets first will have to get by Potomac, ranked No. 5 in the Washington area, a team they defeated, 70-69, in last season's state 3A title game.
If there is a Cinderella in the state final four, it's Hereford, which will face Edgewood in the Class 2A semifinals tomorrow night at 9. Seeded fourth in Class 2A, Region II, the Bulls have reached Cole Field House by winning three games by a total of five points.
"[Earlier in the season] no one wanted to step up [for the last shot]," Hereford coach Steve Power said of his team's close calls. "Now I've got guys waiting in line to shoot."