Soph-dominated Annapolis faces senior-laden G'burg Countians making record 24th appearance at Cole

State boys basketball

March 12, 1998|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Unlike most high school teams that with key upperclassmen make it to Cole Field House for a state final four, the Annapolis band of sophomores hopes to make College Park an annual field trip.

The young Panthers (21-6) meet powerful, senior-dominated Gaithersburg (25-1) at 7 o'clock tonight in the Class 4A state semifinals at the University of Maryland, College Park. WNAV radio (1430 AM) in Annapolis will broadcast the game live.

Baltimore's No. 2-ranked Mervo (20-4) plays in tonight's other semifinal at 9 p.m. against Prince George's County power Oxon Hill, which is 21-6 and ranked seventh in the Washington metro area by The Washington Post. The survivors play for the Class 4A title at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Annapolis, which won state titles in 1974 and 1990 and is Anne Arundel County's youngest Class 4A team to get to the state semis, will be making its state-record 24th appearance at Cole.

Gaithersburg has never won a state championship and is in the final four for only the fourth time, its first since 1988.

The only similarities between the two teams are that both love to run and press, which could make for a pretty wild game.

Whether Annapolis, ranked seventh in metro Baltimore, upsets or loses to the Montgomery county Trojans, the Panthers' nucleus will get another shot next year -- either to redeem themselves or seek a repeat.

Usually, the key players on teams that get this far are seniors seeking a grand farewell. Such is the case with Gaithersburg, which has 10 12th-graders.

Division I prospect Charles Johnson leads a group of Trojans, who went 23-2 last year but, upset by Springbrook in the West region, missed a shot at the big trophy.

Johnson, a 6-foot-4 power forward who is the school's all-time leading scorer, is averaging 17 points and eight boards a game. His frontcourt mate, 6-5 Mike Ryan, is also averaging 17 points.

It's a team obviously on a mission. The Trojans edged neighborhood rival Quince Orchard, 57-55, in a Class 4A West semifinal and destroyed another county rival, Sherwood, by 95-67 in the region final. That was their 18th win in a row.

By contrast, the Panthers, who came into their regional on a two-game skid, are led by smooth 6-3 Thomas Hawkins. Hawkins is one of four sophomores among the Panthers' top seven players.

Marcus Johnson, a 6-4 forward; point guard Marcus Neal and 6-2 post player Travis Foster are the other sophomores who team with juniors Kyron Belt and Dewayne Hunt, and 6-3 senior DeMarkus Green to give Annapolis a solid seven.

"A lot of people didn't expect us to get this far, but we knew we could do it," said Johnson. "Young guys in the NBA are doing big things, so there's no reason why high school kids can't."

Hawkins, a master creator with terrific instincts, paces the Panthers in scoring with 20.3 points and is averaging 7.5 rebounds a game. Hawkins averaged 17.8 points in four region )) victories.

Johnson follows with 11.2 points a game after averaging 11.8 points in the regionals. Neal, who took over the point at mid-season, is dishing out three assists a game and stepped up his scoring in the regional to average 13 points.

Neal also averaged two steals a game in the regional including three in a 64-62 semifinal victory over No. 9 Meade (19-6).

Foster averaged eight rebounds per game in the regionals.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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