Coaches Daryl Wade of Mervo and Tony Mast of Lackey may be adversaries today in their Class 3A state semifinal at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center, but they share a common thread.
The presence of their teams in today's game is a surprise - if not to the coaches and their players - to many in the Maryland basketball community.
No. 8 Mervo defeated last year's 4A state champ, heavily favored Walbrook, in last weekend's North regional title game. The Chargers of Charles County have emerged from the South region, where Prince George's County powers Gwynn Park (10 state titles) and Friendly (three) were upset in earlier rounds.
"We've only beaten teams from our conference, which in itself has won only one state championship with Thomas Stone's in 1972," said Mast, a first-year coach whose Chargers, ranked No. 6 by The Washington Post, earned their first regional title since 1978 and their first league crown since 1980. "We know we're being watched by every team from each of the three counties [Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's] that make up our league, and we're here to win - make no mistake about that. We're not just happy to be here."
Although his Mustangs have endured a Baltimore City League that has produced 20 state titles since 1993, Wade is no less wary of the Chargers, winners of 21 consecutive games.
"Their kids, our kids - they both deserve to be here," Wade said. " ... We may not have any of the highly recruited kids that some other teams have, but we're not ready to say it's been a good year and have the season end with this game."
One and one
Even though their teams are well known and feared by many opponents, No. 4 Southwestern and Eleanor Roosevelt of Prince George's County have been state champions only once each.
The Sabers won the 4A championship with a 27-0 record in 1997. The Raiders, of first-year coach Brendan O'Connell, were 4A state titlists in 2002.
They will meet tonight at 7 for a chance to face the winner of tonight's semifinal between No. 7 Old Mill and Walt Whitman of Montgomery County in Saturday's 4A title game.
Randallstown coach Kim Rivers calls this, his 12th season, "an atypical year" as the Rams enter tomorrow's 2A state semifinal against defending champ Potomac of Prince George's County.
Unlike the past four years, when the Rams had to meet Douglass of Baltimore City in regional title games, Randallstown this season vanquished regional finalist Milford Mill, a semifinal upset winner over Douglass.
And unlike in past seasons, the Rams didn't enter the playoffs as Baltimore County champs, having been dethroned, 74-66, by nemesis Woodlawn.
"When we lost to Woodlawn at our place, I didn't let the kids go straight into the locker room like they wanted to," Rivers said. "I made them sit there and watch the Woodlawn players dance on our floor ... while they shouted, `Who's house is this?' "
"It hurt us to lose, but I think it also helped us in a way. The players are going to be more focused and hungry for our next game."
Keeping it running
While seniors Darryl Webb and Daevon Wall give No. 9 Long Reach a versatile one-two scoring punch, Brent Stanford has been the team's steadying influence at point guard.
The senior, in his second year as a starter, has taken care of the basketball and capably run the team's offense - averaging six points and 4.5 assists. But what has impressed Long Reach coach Al Moraz Jr. the most about Stanford may be his detailed effort on defense.
Evidence came in the Lightning's 39-35 win over Annapolis in the 3A East regional final, when Stanford's tight defense on point guard Justin Brown kept the Panthers' half-court offense out of sync throughout the game.
Strong play from Stanford at both ends will be a must when the Lightning meets Seneca Valley in today's 3A state semifinal.
"Particularly in the second half of the season, Brent has just buckled down for us on defense - he's held three or four of the better guards in our county to under 10 points a couple times," Moraz said. "His ball-handling has improved and he's definitely become a much more confident point guard as the season has progressed."
Old Mill coach Greg Smith says his Patriots and their Montgomery County opponent tonight, Walt Whitman, are "a contrast in style," and he sees controlling the tempo as the key to his team advancing to its first state final.
Making their second straight trip to the final four and the school's third overall, the Patriots will look to play up-tempo against a team that likes to play half-court and yielded only 41.9 points a game.
"They're a very good defensive team and nobody has scored 40 points on them over the last 10 games," said Smith, whose Patriots average 71.5 points.
"And they have a lot of patience on offense, back-door cuts and screens compared to our up-tempo approach. We definitely have a contrast in style."