Despite Friday's two-point loss to Northwestern, the Masonville Cove Academy boys basketball team has enjoyed unprecedented success for a first-year varsity program without any seniors.
The Bayhawks, which won a 69-64 game over Woodlawn on Monday, rode a seven-game winning streak into the Northwestern game that surprised even coach William Russell.
"I had no idea we could play this well," Russell said. "The expectation was that we'd take a few bumps and get welcomed to the varsity leagues. If we had a couple of wins, I would have been happy."
Nobody knew what to expect from a varsity schedule this winter, but the players have years of experience together. The core of the team has played together since middle school, back before Masonville Cove — located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of South Baltimore — became a high school.
"It's like a brotherhood," said Marcus Harvell, a 6-foot-5 forward who averages 10 points and 10 rebounds per game for the Bayhawks (12-6, 5-2 in Baltimore City's second division). "We've been together since eighth grade. It's definitely a big advantage."
Russell led the squad to a middle-school championship in 2008, and with the addition of former Archbishop Curley guard DaQuan Caver to a core that includes juniors Harvel, Jesse Barr, Leon Fleming, and Antoine Montgomery, the team has continued to grow into one of the city's most disciplined teams despite its inexperience.
Though he leads the team in scoring with 16 points per game, Fleming — a junior who scored 20 points against division-leading Forest Park, 19 against No. 1 Patterson and 21 points against No. 7 City — acknowledges that the team's defense has been key to their success.
"We tend to switch it up and keep teams off balance," said Fleming, a 5-foot-6 guard. "Our press gives a lot of teams problems. We change defense almost every game."
Russell agrees that keeping opponents off balance is one of his team's strengths, adding that other city teams have trouble adjusting to their rapidly-changing schemes.
"We run a plethora of different things," Russell said. "As we switch defensively, we can shut teams down."
Just as quickly as Russell will point out Fleming and Montgomery, his leading scorers, he also recognizes the defensive efforts of players like Barr and Caver. Barr, a 5-foot-8 guard, embodies the team's whatever-it-takes attitude.
"I'll play defense over offense any day," Barr said. "I know my team will have my back."