And down the courts those 6 contenders come!

With four games to go, title picture's crowded

February 11, 2000|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

One of the most competitive county basketball championship races in state history comes down to four games, starting tonight.

Six teams have a chance to win the title. All six are within a two-game spread.

Centennial, thanks to back-to-back losses by Wilde Lake on Tuesday and Wednesday, leads the pack with an 11-3 county record.

Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills are tied for second at 10-4. Long Reach, River Hill and Hammond are all 9-5.

"This is great for high school basketball," Centennial coach Jim Hill said. "I'm glad to see it."

Hill's team received bad news this week, losing leading scorer Brian O'Connor (13.6 points) for the remainder of the season after being struck in an eye by a ball during gym class.

"He went to the Wilmer Eye Clinic, and they found an internal hemorrhage but said he'll be all right," said Hill. "There was no detached retina. But he can't do anything for eight weeks."

O'Connor didn't play Wednesday against Glenelg, but teammates Scott Kincaid (20 points) and Pat McAfee (14 points) picked up the scoring slack.

Centennial is the only team in the race that controls its own fate, but the Eagles face a rugged schedule of River Hill, Wilde Lake, Howard and Oakland Mills. They lost to Wilde Lake by 32 points, needed overtime to nip Howard, 76-73, and defeated River Hill, 60-55, and Oakland Mills, 56-49.

The remaining schedule is most favorable for Long Reach and Hammond.

The Lightning plays the league's three weakest teams, Howard (4-10), Atholton (2-12) and Glenelg (0-14), plus Oakland Mills, a team it defeated handily, 74-60.

The Bears, a young team led by sophomore point guard Taj Murphy and junior Datren Awkward, play Glenelg, River Hill, Oakland Mills and Atholton. None of the other contenders has a game left with Atholton. Only Wilde Lake plays Glenelg.

Lightning coach Al Moraz said his team won't take any team lightly.

"Howard was beating us by 10 points in the fourth quarter, Oakland Mills beat us, 74-60, and Atholton is much improved and took Centennial to overtime Monday."

Long Reach demolished Wilde Lake on Wednesday. And the Wildecats are the one team most coaches think stands above the crowd in height and talent.

"Wilde Lake has to be the favorite, and sooner or later, they'll come out of their funk," said Oakland Mills coach Dave Appleby.

Oakland Mills, on a five-game winning streak, including a 52-49 victory at Mount Hebron Wednesday, plays host to Wilde Lake at 7 tonight. The surprising Scorpions lost to Wilde Lake, 66-55, when Wildecat David Martin scored 28 points.

Wilde Lake, in addition to Oakland Mills, must play Centennial, Glenelg and Mount Hebron -- all teams the Wildecats have defeated. Among them, only the Mount Hebron win was close, by three points.

Oakland Mills, led by Cyril Chesson's 16-point average, faces the toughest remaining schedule. After Wilde Lake, the Scorpions must play Long Reach, Hammond and Centennial. They lost to Hammond, 58-50, and to Centennial, 56-49.

"But we played Centennial without two of our starters," said Appleby.

River Hill has received little respect while quietly remaining in the race. The Hawks rallied to nip Long Reach by one point in the key game of the season for them Monday.

The Hawks sank nine three-point baskets in beating Long Reach. Matt McCathorine is one of River Hill's prime-time players. Alex Nowak is an inside force, along with Alex Dummett and 6-8 sophomore Kevin Steenberge. After playing league-leading Centennial tonight, the Hawks face Hammond, Mount Hebron and Howard -- all three of which they've defeated.

In the race

Six teams are still fighting for the Howard County boys basketball title. The remaining opponents for each team, listed by game day (today, Tuesday, Thursday and Feb. 22):

Centennial: River Hill, at Wilde Lake, Howard, at Oakland Mills

Wilde Lake: at Oakland Mills, Centennial, at Glenelg, at Mount Hebron

Oakland Mills: Wilde Lake, at Long Reach, at Hammond, Centennial

Hammond: Glenelg, at River Hill, Oakland Mills, Atholton

Long Reach: Howard, Oakland Mills, at Atholton, at Glenelg

River Hill: at Centennial, Hammond, Mount Hebron, at Howard

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