Annapolis and South River unfazed by underdog roles

March 10, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

Dave Griffith was supposed to be here. So was Ronald Price -- if he purchased a ticket.

The two coaches will bring their teams into the state girls basketball tournament at UMBC with similar goals in mind, to overcome the long odds of being a fourth seed and win a championship.

For Griffith, in his first season as head coach at Annapolis (19-6) after spending the past three as an assistant, making it to today's 5 o'clock 4A semifinal against No. 1 seed Sherwood of Montgomery County meant having to shake off a 1-4 start and some uneasy feelings.

"I thought maybe we weren't quite as good as we thought we were," he said. "And then we started picking up momentum, and when we only lost to Old Mill that second time by three points [42-39], I felt we were close. I kept saying if we could peak at the right time, we could go into the regions and win it."

For Price, who replaced Mildred Beall as coach at South River after last season, reaching tomorrow's 5 o'clock 2A game against No. 1-ranked Hammond of Howard County was more improbable.

The Seahawks (13-12) had one legitimate star in 6-foot senior center Pam Patterson, a second-team All-County selection last year, and a bunch of promising role players. Together, they were supposed to show marked improvement over the previous five-win campaign. Nothing more.

"At this point, we're just happy to be in the playoffs," said Price, whose team -- which dropped from 3A status this season -- has won five in a row.

Annapolis came into the region playoffs as the fifth seed, meaning it had to win three games on the road. Old Mill and Severna Park, the last two obstacles, were a combined 4-0 against the Panthers before the playoffs.

"The closer we got to the end, the more they started believing in themselves and played that much harder," Griffith said. "Those three games were three of the best I've seen them play in a long time."

For much of the season, Annapolis got by on the dominant inside play of 6-1 senior center Shannon Henderson, who powered her way to averages of 18.5 points, 16.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks a game, and the hustle of senior guard Cristi Samaras (13.8 ppg, 122 steals).

But it took other elements -- like contributions from unheralded starters Janelle Queen (7.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg),Emily Nugent (7.6 ppg) and Stephy Samaras (5.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg), and defensive specialist Artina Trader (42 steals, 20 blocks) -- to make it this far.

"Emily was the threat we needed outside. She started bombing the threes and defenses had to come out, which opens up Shannon underneath and also spread them out enough that Cristi could drive," said Griffith.

Sherwood coach Warren Crutchfield has made the playoffs in 15 of his 16 seasons. This is his fourth time in the states, and he's seeking his first title.

If Annapolis gets past Sherwood (22-1), it would face either No. 3 seed Oxon Hill or No. 2 seed and second-ranked Western in the final. The Doves (21-2) lost to Old Mill in last year's championship game and are viewed as the favorites to come away with the title this winter.

"If we play the way we played in the regionals, we have a good shot," Griffith said. "I know people don't believe that and we're the dark horses again, but I think we do. I really do."

South River knows plenty about immense challenges, having to go up against Hammond (21-1) tomorrow in what appears on paper to be a mismatch.

"Our record doesn't really show the caliber of our team because we've only played four 2A teams," said Price, who has led the Seahawks to their first state tournament since 1987. They were champions the previous year.

South River's best shot at upsetting Hammond is to control the inside, which is where Patterson (19.9 ppg, 12.0 rpg) comes into play. She is on a roll, having totaled 76 points and 55 rebounds in three playoff wins.

"If we can open up the inside a little bit, we might have a shot at making it a close game," said Price, who also hopes guards Jess Marion (11.1 ppg) and Cassidie Dunbar (11.3 ppg) will be quick enough to stay with Hammond's fleet-footed backcourt.

All five of the Bears' starters average in double figures in scoring, but their strength is in guards Kacy Williams (11.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 7.8 apg, 118 steals) and Tiki Nicholson (16.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 98 steals). They usually run opposing teams ragged.

Coach Joe Russo's squad won the 2A state championship two years ago and lost to Middletown in the final last season.

"Anyone good enough to make it to the states is good enough to win it," he said. "We're preparing for them like we'd prepare for any team. Our kids are focused. They'd like to win it this year."

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