Nicolini comes up big for Annapolis, 77-67 He scores 11 in 4 minutes of 4th as No. 8 Panthers turn aside Arundel

Class 4A/Boys basketball

March 06, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Slender Annapolis shooting guard Todd Nicolini never once soared through a maze of bodies last night for a big rebound, a layup or a slam dunk.

But his late-game scoring heroics in a 77-67 victory over Arundel in the Class 4A East Region boys basketball semifinals prompted high praise from those all around him at Annapolis.

"I needed a two-guard this season with courage and composure to come in and replace [graduated] Ryan Dacey," said Annapolis coach John Brady. "And Todd has been everything I've wanted. You need a certain attitude that can't be taught to play the way Todd does. He's filled the void and taken the big shots when we've needed them."

Nicolini, a senior who is listed at 5-foot-11 although that seems to be stretching it a bit, simply buried the 10th-ranked Wildcats with a fourth-quarter shooting spree that resulted in 11 points in less than four minutes and ruined any Arundel hopes for making a late rush.

Nicolini began the surge with two dramatic three-pointers in 17 seconds, pushing eighth-ranked Annapolis ahead, 62-50, with four minutes and 31 seconds left in the game.

He went on to hit five free throws in the next 2: 39 and also got the ball to Brian Barber for a vicious slam dunk with 1: 20 left, putting an exclamation point on the win that sends the Panthers (20-5) into the Class 4A East championship game at 7 tomorrow night at Calvert High.

Calvert gained the berth opposite Annapolis last night with a 76-60 victory over Northern-Calvert.

Nicolini finished with a team-high 21 points, enabling the Panthers to overcome an strong performance by powerful Arundel center Tony Ross.

Ross, a 6-6 senior, bulled his way through Annapolis for a game-high 23 points but missed a wide-open follow shot that could have cut the Annapolis lead to 54- 50 with 5: 47 remaining in the game.

After Ross somehow failed to hit that stick-back off a missed Joe Parker three-point shot, Arundel (18-6) seemed to panic a little and went away from its inside game.

The Wildcats constantly fired up three-pointers the rest of the game and they couldn't match the marksmanship of Nicolini.

The fearless Nicolini said of the fourth-quarter run: "Coach Brady told us to push the ball up the floor and look for layups. But if I'm open for threes, I'll shoot them. I like taking chances."

That is the courage Brady is talking about.

"I've enjoyed this team," said Brady. "They've played to their potential and haven't cheated themselves. It's hard to explain my feelings of joy for them, because they've come so far from last summer. They beat a real physical Arundel team tonight -- a team that I felt had enough talent and physical style to win it all, if they got to College Park [for Class 4A state final four]."

Boo Diggs, who sit out nearly two minutes of the first quarter and the entire second quarter with two fouls, had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers.

Barber and Byron Booth each scored 12 and Barry Booth had 11, giving Annapolis all five starters in double figures.

Arundel's Lavar Robinson had 14 points, Parker scored 12 and Jamell Miller added 10.

Miller, Robinson and Ross spent much of the night for Arundel dueling Diggs, Barber and the Booth twins on the boards and won a lot of those battles.

But in the end, it was the smallish Nicolini who had the last say.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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