Cumberland Times-News

March 14, 2009

Quick fix needed to reverse state tournament woes

Mike Mathews

Someday and somehow, it will happen. It’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.

Chalk up another one for Baltimore in its growing high school boys basketball series with Cumberland.

The series now stands at 6-0, including 5-0 in just the last six years. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but the numbers are going to keep widening until one of two things happen:

No. 1: Team speed and quickness improve, and quite dramatically, among the Class 1A West Region teams, or;

No. 2: The perfect game is played.

Since No. 2 is next to impossible for any team, it’s No. 1 that’s going to have to be what gets a local team over the hump.

But like height, when it comes to quickness you either have it, or you don’t. And even when one of the local teams have it, it usually pales in comparison to that of the Baltimore, and Eastern Shore, teams.

Digital Harbor had it Friday afternoon, appearing to be a step-and-a-half quicker than Allegany in just about every area. Quick on defense. Quick cutting to the basket and to the boards. Quick on the fast break.

“If we move the ball and play good defensively, we can beat anybody, and we know it,’’ Digital Harbor coach Johnnie Grimes said Friday.

The result was a 64-45 win, followed by a 75-60 victory over Pocomoke in Saturday’s state championship game.

Allegany is 0-5 against Baltimore City schools (0-4 against Dunbar, 0-1 against Digital Harbor) in the state tournament. In all five instances, the Campers lost to the eventual state champion. Three of the Dunbar losses came in championship games (1994, 90-62; 2004, 63-48; and 2006, 68-47).

Fort Hill lost its only game with Dunbar, putting together a near-perfect game but losing in overtime, 73-71, in a semifinal two years ago.

Playing in the state tournament is a huge jump for whoever wins the West Region. Some years it’s a larger jump than others, and this year was one of them.

There’s no arguing that the West Region, at least the West section of the West Region, wasn’t as strong as in years past.

In fact, boys basketball as a whole was down this year, and in a big way. Only five teams had winning records. One was Pendleton County, which surged late to get to 13-11.

Of Allegany’s first 25 games, only nine were against teams with a winning record: Bishop Walsh, Mountain Ridge, Keyser, Brunswick, and Williamsport.

Day by day, year after year, tons of youth basketball results are listed in the newspaper. There are plenty of players out there. But where do they go when they reach high school? Some high school teams, jayvee and varsity, barely had 10 players this year. A few had less than 10.

High school sports is one important branch offered as part of the educational process. The lessons taught include hard work, teamwork, unselfishness, and discipline.

Those are four traits that seem, at times, to be on the way out these days. That’s sad, because they are four traits that are timeless and the key building blocks to success in any venture.

A better idea?

West Virginia tweaked its playoff system this year. Losers in sectional championship games got second life, a basketball mulligan of sorts.

Sectional champs and runners-up played counterparts from another section. The winners of those games went to the state tournament.

Some sections are stronger than others, and this served as another filter in the process of trying to get the best teams to Charleston.

It’s a good idea. It would’ve been nice had Maryland had the same thing in the works, especially last spring in softball, with state champion Fort Hill, Mountain Ridge and Allegany all in the same region. They may have been three of the best four or five teams in the state in 1A, but only one got to the Final Four.

Still in the books

Several local players still have their names in the MPSSAA state tournament recordbooks.

Mac Sloan, of Westmar, remains tied for the most three-point goals in a single game with seven in a 25-point game against Cambridge-South Dorchester in 1993 .... John Smith, of Valley, holds the best foul shooting mark for two games, converting 30 of 33 in 1986 ... Bob Pence, of Bruce, made the longest shot in tournament history, an 85-footer, in a 1975 semifinal.

On the girls side, there are no record-holders but several players put up big scoring games.

There had been 38 30-point games in girls tournament history heading into this year. Southern scoring machine Jenny Hillen has the third and 20th best games, with 43 points in a 1984 semifinal and 32 in a 1985 semifinal ... Mount Savage’s Tina Malloy had 32 points, which is 16th best, in a 1975 quarterfinal .... Dawn Sloan had 30-point games in the 1990 final and a 1991 semifinal in leading Joan Fitzpatrick’s powerful Westmar teams to back-to-back championships.

Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Contact Mike Mathews at