State basketball draw tips off month of hoopla

On High Schools

High Schools

February 22, 2005|By MILTON KENT

SUNDAY MORNING WAS a day that screamed the virtues of staying indoors and enjoying civility and quiet, what with a sky that hinted of bad weather, an hour of Tim Russert and the newspaper crossword puzzle beckoning.

Keith Adams, coach of the Springbrook boys basketball team, had laundry duties and a chance to spend quality time with his wife on his Sunday menu.

But Adams still made the trip from Montgomery County to Long Reach High School to get the draw for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state tournament firsthand.

"I could have looked it up online, but I wanted to see. Now, we know the road to the championship," said Adams, whose Blue Devils received the eighth seed in the West region of Class 4A and face an opening-round game Friday against Montgomery-Blair.

If the NCAA tournament has become March Madness, call the MPSSAA playoffs February Frenzy, though the title games will be played in mid-March.

Say whatever you want about the day-to-day operations of the MPSSAA (and there is plenty to say), but give it credit for staging a slam dunk of a basketball tournament that gets pulses racing from Oakland in the Alleghenies to Ocean City on the Atlantic shore.

Sunday's draw announcement brought an auditorium full of onlookers, most of whom had little to worry about in terms of their playoff positioning, but were nonetheless curious about whom they'd be playing, thanks to the blind draw for all teams seeded below fourth.

One by one Sunday, the four regions in each of the four classes were arranged by computer, alternating between boys and girls, making for a long but interesting morning. Ties were broken by the old-fashioned coin flip, which made for drama in some situations.

The most important flip of the day broke a tie between the River Hill and Gwynn Park girls teams for the top seed in 3A East. River Hill has lost five straight times in the state playoffs to Prince George's County teams, the past three to Gwynn Park, all on the road, so getting home court for a regional final was important.

When Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA's executive director, announced that the flip had been won by River Hill, Hawks center Brittany Gordon grinned from ear to ear.

"It was an hourlong ride [to Gwynn Park for the previous games]," Gordon said. "Everyone was tired when we got off the bus. It was just really bad. Hopefully, this year will be a new year. If I wasn't here, I'd be at church praying we got [the top seed]. It's a good thing."

Sunday was also a reunion of sorts, as coaches from various counties and conferences gathered under one roof for a couple of hours before doing battle.

"For me, you get a chance to see a lot of the coaches that you don't see throughout the year," said Thomas Stone boys coach Dale Lambreth. "That's the biggest thing, the camaraderie and the chance to see the old coaches, even guys who used to be in the game but are now helping out. You even get to see the guys that you are going to potentially play that you may know."

Lambreth and Mark Gladfelter, the girls coach at Thomas Stone, which is in Charles County, made the hour-plus drive from Southern Maryland to view their fate, and the outcome was mixed.

For Lambreth, his Cougars received the third seed in Class 4A's East region, with a decent shot to get through to the state final. Thomas Stone drew a first-round bye and will host the winner of the North County-Chesapeake (Anne Arundel) game in the quarterfinals.

The news wasn't quite so good for Gladfelter. The Thomas Stone girls, with a 12-9 record and one regular-season game to go, got the 10th seed in the 4A East and will open in the first round against Chesapeake.

Had they gotten the fifth seed, they would have had a first-round bye and gone into a bracket with a potential second-round matchup against fourth-seeded Meade rather than with second-seeded South River (16-4).

Indeed, some coaches privately gripe that the tournament is not seeded top to bottom, as the football tournament is, so that teams with better records can be rewarded for their play.

However, this year, the higher-seeded team in each playoff matchup will be the home team, a switch from recent years when the MPSSAA used a "fewest home games" formula to decide the home team.

"Had they seeded by record, we'd have a home game," Gladfelter said. "But you know what you're getting into before the season starts. Overall, it would have been nice to get a home game, but we'll see what happens. We put ourselves in that situation."

Let the frenzy begin.

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