The race for the city championship is wide open
A quick glance at The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 boys basketball poll - in which seven Baltimore city teams can be found - provides a clear indication of the league's strength and balance this season.
As City coach Mike Daniel, whose No. 3 Knights are 10-1, puts it: "We got a fight on our hands."
The battle for the two invitations to the Baltimore City championship game - set for 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at Morgan State - starts in earnest this week as teams in divisions I and II begin to play intradivision games.
Defending champ Lake Clifton, ranked 10th, got off to a good start in Division II on Tuesday with an 86-80 win over No. 12 Patterson. City and No. 13 Dunbar, which play Friday, also will challenge for the Division II berth.
In Division I, No. 6 Edmondson, No. 7 Digital Harbor and No. 15 Douglass have an opportunity to reach the title game. Douglass travels to Edmondson today.
"Lake Clifton was a monster team last year that ran the table, but the balance is here again," Daniel said. "In my opinion - talent-wise - I think we can play with anybody. Our focus has to get a little better. That's something you work on as the season goes on, and when the big games come, you want to have it all together."
Each of the top teams has its strengths and weaknesses, which bring key matchup issues in every game.
City has size with senior center Jordan Latham. Lake Clifton and Patterson have dynamic guards capable of taking over in Josh Selby and Aquille Carr, respectively. Digital Harbor has a versatile one-two punch in forward Davon Usher and guard Justin Jackson. Edmondson features forward Stanton Kidd and pressure defense. Dunbar has quality depth and a healthy point guard in Corey Spence, who appears back to form after recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident. And Douglass, with four starters back, led by forward Lamont Huggins, can't be overlooked.
"The different matchups really make the battle each time out," Patterson coach Harry Martin said. "It tells the guys they have to be ready to play every single night."
In last year's Baltimore City championship game, Lake Clifton came away with a 69-30 win over Digital Harbor on its way to a 28-0 season. This season, things won't come easily, and it starts with earning the trip to the big game.
"Let the games begin!" Daniel said. "The city championship is about bragging rights - you're the king of the hill for one year, and then it's a battle again next year."
- Glenn Graham
Notre Dame Prep aims to stop Severn's winning streak
Severn's girls basketball team has won 14 straight games, and that makes coach Chuck Miller especially wary of Friday night's opponent, Notre Dame Prep.
"They beat us up at their place last year and broke our winning streak, so for us it's huge. And the pressure is mounting since we've won 14 in a row," said Miller, whose 13th-ranked team is 14-1 and in first place in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference Y Division at 9-0.
Notre Dame Prep rules in the B Conference X Division at 8-1. The Blazers, 12-2 overall, have a two-game lead over Mount de Sales while Severn has a two-game edge on St. Vincent Pallotti in its division.
"It's kind of big to keep that lead, that little buffer zone, at this point in the season," NDP coach Katie Marks said.
Friday's game, at 5:30 p.m. at Severn, will feature an Admirals team that scores 59.4 points a game against an NDP defense that gives up just 32.9 points per game and has allowed only two foes to reach 40.
"The key for us is getting the ball upcourt and getting into our offense," Miller said. "Last year, they were very aggressive, especially from half court, and they really kept us out of our offensive sets."
The Admirals have no players over 5 feet 8, but they have five averaging about 10 points, including guard Aura Payne with 8.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. She, Raven Owens, Leah Cranmer, Liz Harbeson or Alexa Kunowsky could have a big game anytime.
The Blazers have a similarly well-rounded group paced by freshman point guard Sydney Tommins, who averages 10 points and three assists. Meghan Helm, Rachel Quinn and Katie McKenna also average about 10 points.
Winning this game, which could be a preview of the B Conference final, would provide quite a boost.
"I think it would be huge for the kids' confidence," Marks said. "This is obviously going to be the best team we've played, so it is going to be a good measuring stick for us."
- Katherine Dunn
Old Mill's Vaughters, Spalding's Smith reach 100-victory mark
Old Mill junior Ron Vaughters, who won a state title last year in the 135-pound class, is wrestling at 145 this season and reached the career 100-match win mark last weekend. The accomplishment is rare among public school wrestlers, whose competition is limited, and even rarer for a junior.
"Kids who get 100 wins in the public schools are usually barely over 100 at the end of their senior years," Old Mill coach Dan Youngblood said. "He's still got 20 matches left to go this year and could have 125 by the time he's through."
Archbishop Spalding junior Kvaunte Smith, a second-team All-Metro selection last season, moved up from 171 to 189 and also earned his 100th career win.
- Sandra McKee