Just how difficult was it to win a City League basketball game this year?
Ask any of the head coaches, but you may want to start with Bishop Walsh’s Bob Boyle.
No one’s been through the ringer more than the Spartans this year, and it’s been the City games that have been among the most heartbreaking for the Burgundy and White.
With an experienced group back, including two returning All-Area players and Player of the Year candidates in Quincy Redmon and Pat Jones, the Spartans were tabbed by some as favorites not only in the City, but in the Area as well.
Then came the first City game. A 64-54 home loss to Fort Hill was one thing, but a season-ending knee injury to 6-foot-6 Quincy Redmon and a season-shortening ankle injury to 6-4 Shannon Redmon in a 10-minute span was quite another.
A second City home loss, 62-52 to Allegany, was followed by another, 61-59 on a tip-in by Allegany’s Tylor Jessie at the buzzer in overtime.
So it’s easy to understand why Bishop Walsh would feel a bit snakebitten and frustrated before Friday’s City finale at City champion Fort Hill.
Instead, they played the first half as if they had a chip on their shoulder and had something to prove. It was, Boyle agreed afterward, his team’s most efficient half all season.
BW shot 63 percent (17 for 27) in the first half, scored 17 of the first 21 points of the second quarter, held Fort Hill’s top scorers, Garrett D’Atri and Jarrett Wolfe, to a total of four points, and led 41-25 at the half.
But just as the Spartans had made things look easy, suddenly everyone was reminded about Rule 1: City games are very difficult to win this year.
In fact, of the six league games played, only one was decided by more than 10 points. One came in overtime, one in double overtime, one by two points and one by five points. No team went unbeaten on its home floor.
Fort Hill, hoping to go 4-0 in the City after being 0-4 the previous year, went to work quickly in the third quarter, with Wolfe scoring nine points and also piling up fouls on BW’s post men. Joe Hedges and Shannon Redmon fouled out in a span of 34 seconds midway through the fourth quarter, and the momentum was clearly shifting, slowly but surely, to Fort Hill.
The Sentinels, who scored only 25 points in the first half, scored 44 in the second half, 28 in the fourth quarter, and 15 in the final 1:08 of regulation.
The Spartans held on for as long as they could, and led 63-54 with 1:08 to go, 65-59 with 49 seconds left, and 69-64 with 24 ticks remaining.
But Fort Hill kept coming. For the Sentinels, it wasn’t a race against Bishop Walsh, but a race against the clock.
D’Atri, who had 24 points in the second half, scored eight points in the final minute. Wolfe, who had 19 in the second half, tied it with 14 seconds left and Mark Kelly nailed a three-point shot with 7.9 seconds showing to tie it at 69.
“I thought, ‘I can’t believe they went through that lead like this,’’’ Boyle said of Fort Hill’s charge. “We had shut down Garrett D’Atri pretty well in the first half, and then he starts hitting everything, including a couple of 24- and 25-foot three-pointers. He’s a big-time player and a great athlete.”
After all that scoring, each team managed just one point in the first four-minute overtime. The Sentinels missed a jumper and a follow shot as the buzzer sounded.
There were plenty of great games and heroes on both sides, but when remembering the City finale, don’t forget the contribution of Bishop Walsh’s Lucas Bruck.
The 6-6 junior followed Hedges and Redmon inside for the Spartans. His free throw was BW’s only point of the first overtime, and he had two huge buckets in the second overtime, giving the Spartans leads of 72-70 with 3:40 left, and 77-75 with a minute to go.
Pat Jones, who had 28 points and won the league scoring crown, scored the game-winner in the final seconds, giving BW the 79-77 win.
“A couple of plays there at the end, I know they didn’t expect us to run plays to Lucas,’’ Boyle said. “And boy, Lucas stepped up big time for us at the end of the game.
“Everybody who played contributed. It was great to see.”
In the end, Bishop Walsh won the battle but Fort Hill won the war, as far as the City League goes.
“We take no moral victories, but I’m very proud of the way the kids fought,’’ said Fort Hill coach Thad Burner. “There was no quit in them.
“It’s just a shame someone has to lose that type of game. Bishop Walsh was a bit unlucky, I guess, and lost in overtime at Allegany. Tonight we were the unlucky ones.”
Ping pong playoffs
Injuries are part of the game — an unfortunate part of the game — especially when it comes to high school sports.
Bishop Walsh is proof of that, and so is Mountain Ridge, which lost Joe Patterson to a knee injury in a preseason scrimmage game.
The Maryland playoff drawing is this morning, and Fort Hill and Southern, based on win-loss records, will likely be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Class 1A West section.
Everyone else gets a ping pong ball and is drawn at random for positions on the 16-team tournament bracket.
Sheer luck could lead to a team like Allegany, which won 15 games during the regular season, getting a poor seeding and possibly not getting a home game.
It could also lead to being paired against Mountain Ridge, which has worked hard all season to make up for the loss of Patterson.
Forget Mountain Ridge’s 12-10 record. It’s the definition of deceiving. Allow the Miners to get a lead, and they just might not give it back. They’re playing as well as anyone right now, with a 15-point win over Bishop Walsh and a 21-point win over Allegany in the last 10 days.
The Miners also beat defending sectional champion Southern by 20, 48-28, in early January, and lost by only 10 and eight points to Fort Hill.
Who will win? Wait and see. But first, keep an eye on the bouncing ping pong ball.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org