A showdown between Lake Clifton and Dunbar, the area's two top boys basketball teams didn't materialize this season, but the Lakers and Poets both are shooting for a state championship at the University of Maryland.
Tonight at 7, Lake Clifton (21-1), ranked No. 13 in this week's USA Today Super 25, will meet Arundel, ranked No. 4 in the area, in a state 4A semifinal game.
Dunbar (23-1), ranked No. 13 in this week's National Prep Poll, attempts to move closer to a third consecutive state championship as it faces the area's No. 13 team, Edgewood, tomorrow night at 9 in a state 2A semifinal game.
Both the Lakers and Poets are hoping to continue the dominance of Baltimore City schools in the state tournament.
In their first two years of state competition, Baltimore City teams have won four championships -- Dunbar in 1A in 1993 and 2A in 1994, and Southern in 3A in 1993 and 4A in 1994.
Last season, Douglass lost in the state 3A championship game to DuVal of Prince George's County by two points.
Including last week's regional contests, Baltimore City teams have a 38-6 record in the tournament.
The Poets have typified that dominance. Average margin of victory in 10 tournament contests: 31.9 points, including victories over Stephen Decatur (118-63) and Cambridge-South Dorchester (82-60) in last week's East regionals.
"It's a lot of pressure because everyone is after us," said Poets senior guard Billy Wells, whose team has won 37 of the last 38 games dating back to last season. "We have to get consistent play from all of our starters and we've been bigger than most of our opponents."
Dunbar or Edgewood will meet either No. 11 Oakland Mills (21-3) or South Hagerstown (22-2) for the state 2A championship at 6 p.m. Saturday. Considering the Poets' playoff run, it may be anticlimactic, but Poets coach Paul Smith is nonetheless cautious.
"When you get this far, anybody can play," said Smith, who is 46-4 in two seasons at Dunbar. "We just have to make sure that we are focused so there won't be any doubt."
Edgewood (16-8) will attempt to do what no team has been able to do this season -- stop the Poets' offense, which has averaged 98.3 points in its past 10 games.
All five Dunbar starters are averaging in double figures for scoring-- Marvis Thornton (21.2), Tommy Polley (15.3), Wells (13.7), Robert Foster (12.5) and Jeryl Singleterry (10.3).
"I'm approaching it like I'm the coach of the AFC champs in the Super Bowl," said Edgewood coach Bob Slagle jokingly.
"Seriously, I think it should take some of the pressure off of us simply because they are an excellent basketball team. . . . I just hope we play the five guys in the uniforms and not the uniform."
The Lakers, whose only loss of the season was to St. Anthony's of Jersey City, N.J., in late January at the Charm City Classic, will face an Arundel team (21-3) riding an 11-game win streak and making its first state final four appearance in 20 years.
The play of the backcourt will set the tone as Shawnta Rogers (24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game) and Ronald Byrd (15.2 points and 4.5 rebounds) of Lake Clifton will match up with Bakari Ward (22.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists) and Kevin Higgins (15.2 points and 7.8 assists) of Arundel in a matchup of two of the area's top guard tandems.
If Lake Clifton wins and advances to Saturday's 9 p.m. championship game, it will face either Springbrook of Montgomery County or High Point of Prince George's County.
In last year's state 4A finals, Springbrook (21-3), currently ranked No. 2 by the Washington Post, battled Southern-Balto. for most of the second half before falling, 68-58.
High Point (16-7), ranked No. 12 by the Washington Post, defeated Lake Clifton, 96-75, in an intense state 4A region semifinal game at High Point two years ago.
"If you're asking if we're focused, we are," said Lake Clifton coach Charlie Moore, whose team has been No. 1 all season. "We are ready and looking forward to the opportunity."