River Hill loses center Nowak for rest of season

School rule suspension hurts county co-leader

High Schools

Boys basketball notebook

January 22, 2004|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

River Hill and Atholton are tied for the midseason lead with 9-1 league records in the boys county basketball race, but the former was reeling a bit yesterday after losing starting center Ben Nowak for the rest of the season for breaking a school rule. Nowak, a 6-foot-3 senior, was averaging 12.1 points - one of four River Hill players scoring in double figures.

River Hill dominated the season's first half, winning most of its games by comfortable margins, while the Raiders excelled at winning close games.

Averaging 69 points and riding a seven-game win streak, River Hill (9-1 overall) is the county's leading offensive team and features four players averaging in double figures - Rogers Barnes at 15.7 points, Richie Jackson at 12.3, Kyle Sullivan at 10.5 and Nowak. The defense is adept at stealing passes and scoring on fast breaks.

Hawks coach Brian Van Deusen, whose team finished second to Mount Hebron last season after winning its first county title in 2002, could not be reached for comment last night on what the loss of Nowak will mean to his team.

No. 19 Atholton handed No. 13 River Hill its only loss, 67-62, and the Raiders have three six-point wins, one five-point win and two three-point wins. Atholton's only league loss was to Howard, 58-56.

"We'll probably be in a lot more close ones in the second half," said Atholton coach Jim Albert. "Our experience and senior leadership has helped. The players believe in themselves and trust one another, and they keep their poise and hit their free throws at the end of games. We've also gotten help off our bench."

Senior center Jonas Vaitkus leads the Raiders (9-3 overall), who finished fourth last season. The former DeMatha player averages 12 points and seven rebounds. Brandon Boy and Craig Sauers each score 10 points a game.

Top challengers

Long Reach (9-3 overall, 8-2 county) and Wilde Lake (9-3, 7-3) are the top challengers to the two league leaders.

Long Reach lost to River Hill by 12 points and to Atholton by six, and won close games against Glenelg (53-47) and Oakland Mills (46-44). Senior two-time all-county point guard Mike Smelkinson (17 points) is the team's top player.

"We're happy where we are," said Lightning coach Al Moraz.

Wilde Lake is the league's second-hottest team with a six-game winning streak. The Wildecats lost to River Hill by 10, (River Hill's smallest margin of victory this season), to Atholton by 17 and to Long Reach by nine.

A deep, senior-dominated team, the Wildecats are led by senior Brandon Graham (17 points) and junior Brandon Young (9.5 points).

Wildecats coach Phil Chenier said: "Winning the Cap City Classic turned our season around."

Next in line

Mount Hebron (7-5, 6-4) stands in fifth place and Howard is sixth (4-7, 4-5), and either team is dangerous on a given night.

Inconsistency on offense has hurt Mount Hebron, which has been held below 40 points twice but has scored as many as 79 in a win over Centennial.

"We've improved a lot and play with a lot of heart. I'm totally proud of my team," said Vikings coach Mike Linsenmeyer after a loss to Wilde Lake Jan. 14.

A scrappy team, the Vikings are led offensively by center Adam Maddock (13 points, five rebounds), a transfer from Seattle.

At times, Howard plays as well as any team in the league, as evidenced by its 58-56 victory over Atholton Jan. 7, even though it was missing top scorer Ronnie Mann. The Lions suffer from a lack of consistency.

"We just can't put four quarters together," coach Marvin Thorpe said. "We're still growing and learning, and hopefully in the second half we will learn from our first-half experience."

Hurt by injuries

Centennial and Glenelg are each competitive with any team in the county if they are healthy.

Centennial (3-9, 3-7) has had five players with injuries at various times.

"I've never had a year like this. We've been missing our height and have had to play guards at center," said coach Jim Hill, whose Eagles have won five county titles since 1993.

Glenelg (2-10, 2-8) is finally healthy again but is riding a 10-game losing streak. The Gladiators have missed 6-5, 250-pound center Dallas Davidson (10 ppg, six rpg) with a high-ankle sprain for the past four games, as well as third-leading scorer Dan McMahon (eight points) for the past two games since he broke his nose against River Hill.

Glenelg stresses defense and is allowing only 49 points a game, while holding opponents to a 39 percent shooting. But the Gladiators struggle offensively, scoring only 47 points a game.

"The effort is there," said coach Jeremy Snyder, whose team has lost in the regional finals two of the past three seasons. "Decision-making and inexperience are hurting us."

Coming on strong

Oakland Mills and Hammond are two teams that could turn their seasons around in the second half.

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