First-year varsity Hammond coach Mark Murray predicted before the season began that other teams would underestimate his team, because he knew the Bears would play intense defense.
His players are proving that Murray was correct in his evaluation. Since knocking off three-time defending county champion Atholton by a stunning 21 points on Jan. 17, they've also beaten perennial contender Oakland Mills.
Upsets are one thing, but not even Murray believed the Bears would rise much higher than middle-of-the-pack in the county league.
After Hammond (10-5 overall, 9-2 league) rallied to knock off Oakland Mills on the road Wednesday night, however, the Bears moved into sole possession of second place and still had hopes for a county title.
Trailing league-leading Centennial by two games, they know they need help to catch the unbeaten, fifth-ranked Eagles, whom they play at home Feb. 13. They just hope they get a chance.
"I'm surprised. I didn't expect to be in second place," said Jerry Oliver, who is one of the team's best and most competitive
Oliver, one of only three seniors on the team, typifies the unselfish attitude that has carried the Bears this far. At 6-foot-2, he's out of position as a post player, but that's primarily where he plays. And his main contribution is rebounding.
"He's quicker than most post players and just as strong," Murray said.
Oliver, the team's leading scorer, averages only about 10 points, because Hammond's motion offense doesn't depend on a go-to shooter. Scoring normally is a by-product of defense or of offensive rebounding. The Bears score off a lot of fast breaks and put-backs.
"Oliver and I play well off each other," said Ryan Pflugrad, a lanky 6-foot-3 soccer player who can get out on the fast break as well as anyone on the team. "He follows all my shots and is great at put-backs. If he scores his 10 points we sail, because it opens things up for everyone else."
Pflugrad, a junior forward, scored 13 against Oakland Mills, and he continues to be Murray's "biggest surprise."
Pflugrad was cut his freshman season. "He was the least skilled basketball player we had then, but made himself into a player," Murray said. "He didn't play at all the first few games this season, but came over to me during the Milford game and told me he was ready to play, went in, played well and has started ever since."
Other starters include Pat Lally at point guard, Jimmy McDonnell at shooting guard and Dayshawn Dillahunt at small forward.
Dillahunt, a 6-1 transfer from North Carolina, sank the winning basket against Oakland Mills with six seconds left.
Dillahunt is one of the few players Murray didn't coach on Hammond's JV before he took over the varsity this season.
"The most enjoyable thing about this team, more than the wins, is watching them improve," Murray said. "We've cut down on turnovers, are spreading the floor on the break better and have become a better passing team. The first half of the season we had more steals than assists."
Improvement in passing and foul shooting are still two things the Bears must have if they hope to catch Centennial.
Murray has a strong bench that he uses often, including Antiwan Oliver, Jason Boyd, Eric Oetting and Justin Hillian. "We can go with a big lineup, small lineup, man-for-man lineup or zone lineup depending on how the game is going," Murray said.
"When we play well we can play with anyone," Pflugrad said. "But we have to keep our heads together and play with intensity."
Pub Date: 2/02/97