Long Reach makes statement in county, routs Centennial

Lightning stakes claim to front-runner role in Howard County, 66-46

Boys basketball

High Schools

January 03, 2001|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Though he tried tremendously, Long Reach coach Al Moraz realized he could hide very little after last night's game against Centennial.

He certainly couldn't hide the grin on his face, which came courtesy of a decisive 66-46 win over the Eagles. And he can no longer hide the fact that his Lightning, after quietly pushing their record to 7-1 during the first month of the season, may now have emerged as the early favorite in Howard County.

"They're definitely the team to beat," said Centennial coach Jim Hill, whose team grabbed the league title last season. "I think they'll still be the team to beat in the county two, three weeks from now. They're that good."

Although Centennial dropped to 5-3, and should have a say in things before the season ends, Long Reach did plenty to earn Hill's praise.

For starters, Lightning weren't shy about getting the ball to their best player, 6-foot-5 forward Josh Gross, a first-team all-county pick last season. Gross slipped, scraped and elbowed his way inside for 17 points and 11 rebounds, but also shared the ball. Every time he was bottled up by the Eagles' collapsing zone and kicked the ball out to an open teammate, good things happened. Nick Andrews scored 19, Farris Dean added 13 and Kevin O'Malley went for a career-high 17 off the bench, including four three-pointers.

"I don't want to say too much about [O'Malley] because he's still a secret in the county," Moraz joked. "I'm so happy with him. He's got a great shot ... he drained two or three in a row before they finally said `Hey, we'd better get on this kid.' "

O'Malley and Gross helped the Lightning surge to a 28-17 halftime lead, but the Eagles caught a break at the start of the third quarter when Gross got pump-faked up in the air and came crashing down on his hip, forcing him out of the game for the entire period Centennial went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 32-29.

But Andrews calmly nailed a jumper, scored twice on offensive rebounds and hit 7 of 8 free throws in a closing stretch that turned a close game into a convincing statement for Long Reach.

"Josh is basically our main man to go to, but we know our role when things are down for him," Andrews said. "We have to step up and bring our `A' game."

"It was a good win, a lucky win and that was a very good team we beat," Moraz said. "I'm not here to pump us up ... we're very happy to be where we are."

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