It wasn’t supposed to happen. It rarely has.
The last time it did, Bill Clinton was President. O.J. Simpson’s murder trial had just begun. The Dow Jones hit 4,000 for the first time ever. Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record by playing in his 2,131st straight game. Michael Jordan ended a 17-month retirement and baseball odyssey and returned to the Bulls. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Amateur Championship.
But when Fort Hill upset Bishop Walsh Friday night, it happened again. A three-way tie for the boys basketball City championship.
How rare is it? While there have been a number of two-way ties since the league began in 1921, there had been only three three-way ties before this year: 1995, 1974 and 1959. So three-way ties have happened, on average, about once every quarter-century.
For it to happen this year, Fort Hill had to beat the No. 1 ranked team in the area, a team that had won their first meeting in a blowout, 77-48, six weeks earlier.
Fort Hill coach Thad Burner understood the Sentinels were the underdog in the rematch. But they were playing at home, and that had to count for something. This year no visiting team won a City League game. They were 0 for 6.
While being able to claim a portion of a league championship is nice, it leaves no one really satisfied. No one sets a preseason goal of being league co-champions. But it is what it is. Fort Hill can claim to have won two in a row. Bishop Walsh can claim to have won two of the last three, and Allegany two of the last four.
“The City was on our minds, but as I told the guys afterward, this is not going to be the highlight of our year. We want to use this to catapult us into the playoffs,” said Burner, whose team trailed for only five minutes in the first half of the 32-minute game.
“It’s disappointing,’’ admitted BW coach Bob Boyle, “because we don’t get many opportunities like this at Bishop Walsh. I had cautioned the guys that this would be a tough game because it was a big chance for Fort Hill to get a piece of the City championship. But I guess I didn’t get through or say it enough.”
While Bishop Walsh won the City outright in 2011, the Spartans have only won it outright five times since 1985, although there was no City League from 1998-2003. BW has never won the Appalachian Mountain Athletic Conference outright, and now needs to beat Keyser and win at Southern and at Hampshire to be co-champions with Allegany.
While games can be broken down and analyzed to death as to why one team won and one lost, Friday night’s basically boiled down to two fundamentals: rebounding and shooting.
Fort Hill carried the evening in both.
The Sentinels led in rebounds 35-24, including 26-15 the last three quarters, and allowed BW few offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities. And while 17 for 40 shooting won’t win a lot of games, it was good enough Friday night.
“Early in the first quarter we were able to get some fouls on their big guys and that helped us dictate play for a while,” Burner said. “We gained some confidence, got a lead and kept it.
“The biggest thing for us is rebounding. When we rebound well, we usually win.”
In their two City wins, the Sentinels had a 76-44 advantage on the boards. In the two losses, they were out-rebounded 87-72.
There’s a reason there were so many rebounds. A good bit of masonry work went on in the City this year. There’s no way to sugar coat it. While a few had good shooting percentages, no team did. BW shot 42 percent, Allegany 41 and Fort Hill 36. And the team that had the worst three-point shooting percentage was the one that shot the most three-point shots. Final league statistics are in today’s Scoreboard section.
Want another statistical anomaly? Fort Hill won a share of the league championship despite being outscored by 51 points. The Sentinels won eight- and two-point games and lost 29- and 32-point games.
On Friday, the Spartans were 14 for 41 from the field and took just as many three-pointers as two-pointers. Perhaps they shouldn’t have, because they shot 57 percent (12 for 21) on two-point shots and 10 percent (2 for 20) on three-pointers.
“Three-point shots are fine when you’re hitting them, and (Dalton) Gaus and a couple of other guys did for Fort Hill,’’ said Boyle. Fort Hill was 5 of 12 from the three-point line. “But when you’re not hitting them, you can’t keep firing them up. You’ve got to attack the basket more. And we didn’t.”
Fort Hill had success with its zone defense and rebounded well despite the problems that can arise when playing a zone. And the more BW missed from the outside, the quicker the defense sagged, turning the lane into a quagmire at times in the second half.
“We knew if we were to force them to shoot the long shots we had to have the rebounds,’’ said Burner, whose team did a good job getting the long rebounds that three-point shots often create. “We didn’t want to give them many second chances.”
Bits and pieces: Jarrett Wolfe’s 10th rebound Friday night game him 400 for his career. The 6-9 senior, who had 10 blocked shots Tuesday against Hampshire, reached three milestones this year: 600th point, 400th rebound and 100th blocked shot ... BW’s Liam Rhodes won the City League scoring title, averaging 17.5 points per game … Allegany’s Trenton Eirich was the top foul shooter, edging out Rhodes 86.3 percent to 85.7 percent. Eirich, who missed two games, was 19 for 22. Rhodes was 4 for 5 Friday night and finished 24 for 28 … BW’s Quincy Redmon shot 69 percent from the field (20 for 29) ... Hampshire’s Travis Clower, the only area player to score in double figures in every game this year, made 28 of 29 foul shots (96.5 percent) the last three games, and is 40 for 47 the last five ... Many thanks to Donnie Gibson, Allegany sports historian and record-keeper extraordinaire, for reference books filled with City League history and statistics ... Results of the Maryland playoff drawing appear in the Scoreboard section. Only the top four teams, based on regular-season records, are seeded in each region. Others were drawn randomly and placed on the 16-line tournament bracket.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at email@example.com