CUMBERLAND — The Allegany Campers, six days after winning the region championship in dramatic double-overtime fashion and extending their winning streak to 19 games, hit the road again today in search of just two more wins.
Two more and the Campers (23-1) are boys basketball state champions for the first time in more than 20 years. To get to the Class 1A state final, they must first get past the Crisfield Crabbers (17-7) in today’s 3 p.m. semifinal at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center.
Today’s other semifinal pits Central of Prince George’s County (16-7) against Edmondson (18-5) at 5 o’clock. The winners will play for the state championship on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Allegany is making its fifth tournament appearance in 11 years, and although the Campers are second in the state with 14 championships, the last one was in 1993, in Class 2A.
The Comcast Center has become familiar territory for the Campers, and they won’t run into a familiar roadblock in Dunbar. The Poets beat Allegany in four of their last five trips, and in the finals twice. Dunbar is now in Class 2A, and didn’t reach the state tournament. But there is a defending champion in the 1A Final Four, Edmonson, which won the 2A state championship last year before dropping down to 1A this year.
No matter who the opponent, Allegany coach Tedd Eirich believes the key to success for his team remains the same.
“I think every year the question is can we handle the speed of the game down there,’’ he said. “That’s what it seems to boil down to most years. The other thing that comes to mind is depth. The last time we were down there, I thought our starting five was as good as Dunbar’s. It just felt like they had 10 of them.”
Allegany relied on its bench late in a 63-62 double-overtime win over Manchester Valley in the West Region final last week when three players fouled out. It was the biggest challenge of the season.
“We hadn’t really been challenged much this year and that game was a good thing for us,’’ Eirich said. “We showed we could handle adversity, we were down by 11 and so many times it seemed like we were beat and kept fighting back, no matter who was on the court.
“Everyone was a hero at some point and some at several times,’’ he continued. “I think the experience of being in so many close games last year played a factor in it. The kids were very calm and played under control. The pressure didn’t seem to bother them.”
Darquel Jessie had 21 points, Bryce Nightengale 19 and six blocked shots and Trenton Eirich 15 points, including the game-winning basket in the final seconds.
In Crisfield, the Campers face a quick team that loves to shoot the three-pointer, according to Eirich.
“They will shoot up threes from everywhere, but also have a couple of big guys inside that give them some nice balance.”
Crisfield trailed Joppatowne 33-27 at halftime in the East Region championship game and won 70-59. Al Cohen had one point in the first half and 15 in the second-half comeback. He and Joey Bradshaw, who had 17 points, combined for six three-point goals in the second half to lead the Crabbers to their first region title in 14 years.
The Allegany defense will be tested by Crisfield’s perimeter shooting.
“I believe we’ve adjusted our defense well against all the teams we’ve played so far,’’ Eirich said. “We’ll be ready for anything. Even if they are too quick for us and we go to a zone, we’ll still defend and extend it to the three-point line. Some of the threes they’ve taken have been from NBA range.”
One of Allegany’s biggest strengths has been its balance. The Campers had all five starters average in double figures in scoring during the regular season.
Trenton Eirich averages 19 points and 3.2 assists, Jessie 18.6 points, 8 rebounds and 2.2 steals, Nightengale 13 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 2.3 steals, Mario D’Atri 10 points, 7.7 assists and 2.1 steals, and Colton Sivic 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Cohen, a 6-foot-1 guard, leads Crisfield with a 19.9 scoring average, followed by 5-11 Jawayne Taylor at 14.2, 6-4 forward Montel Douglas at 12.9, and 5-10 guard Lamont Potter at 11.2.
The Crabbers are 11-0 when holding an opponent to fewer than 60 points, but just 6-7 when the opponent scores 60 or more. Allegany averages 81.8.
Crisfield is fifth in the state with eight state championships, the last one being in 2000, and has a bit of history with Allegany County basketball.
In 1979, Valley ended Crisfield’s 50-game winning streak, 47-44 in the state semifinals, and the Black Knights went on to win the state title with a 27-0 record.
In 1980, Crisfield beat Valley 55-48 in a semifinal rematch and won the state title, and in 1982 the Crabbers beat Southern 54-38 in a semifinal and won the state title the next day.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at email@example.com