In the moments before yesterday's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference semifinal against McDonogh, 11th-year St. Paul's coach Rick Collins told his players specifically to "go out and win it for yourselves."
This from a man who is known for being a disciplinarian, a man whose teams follow his directions to the letter. Before his very eyes, however, his Crusaders disobeyed what amounted to a direct order.
Facing a McDonogh squad that had beaten them twice -- by 24 and 15 points -- the No. 19 Crusaders (20-6) exacted revenge with a 44-32 victory, earning Collins his 200th career win and the program's eighth title-game appearance -- its third straight.
The defending champion Crusaders earned the right to go for Collins' fifth league tournament crown, against Severn today, behind a packed-in zone defense and the balanced scoring and rebounding of Mike Satyshur (16 points, four rebounds), Justin Singleton (14, four) and Adair Newhall (eight, six).
Afterward, the first words out of Satyshur's mouth were: "We did it for Coach.
"He [Collins] kept trying to emphasize to us that it was not about him but to get it done for ourselves. But in the back of all of our minds, we knew it was 199 [victories] coming in," said Satyshur, who gave the Crusaders their largest lead, 42-23, on his second three-pointer of the night with four minutes left in the game.
"A lot of it was for Coach and the fact that they'd pretty much
killed us the last time we played them," Satyshur said. "We wanted to show that we were better than that. It was about pride and the fact that we want to repeat for coach."
Collins, 46, whose career record improved to 200-83, has said he will step down at the end of this season. An assistant to Bob Wade at Dunbar from 1976 to 1978, Collins took over a basketball program that had not won a championship in 43 years.
"I kept it from them all year, but they figured it out," said Collins, whose team, during his last home game against Severn on Friday, gave him a plaque before a standing-room only crowd. "After that game, I told them, 'This should be about you, not about Rick Collins.' "
Still, the coach couldn't help but be impressed with last night's inspired play, particularly against the Eagles' 6-foot-6 Lance Clelland and 6-4 Justin Wright.
"We have a small team, compared to McDonogh, and we tried to deny post-entry passes, [and to] make them beat us from the outside," Collins said. "We did a good job in our zone, and a great job on the boards."
The Eagles (16-7) got excellent efforts from Owen Daly and David Lunn (six rebounds), each with 12 points, but too often forced, and missed, shots from the perimeter.
"They'd crushed us the last two times, but we felt we had a mental edge, because it's always tough to beat a team a third time," Singleton said. "We won when it counted most."