For the first time since 1998 and just the fourth time in history, three Frederick County high school boys basketball teams have earned trips to the state tournament.
The last trio to accomplish the feat comprised of Middletown, Brunswick and Gov. Thomas Johnson, which were all eliminated in the 1998 semifinals. Before that was Frederick (Class B champion), Thomas Johnson (Class A champion), and Walkersville (runner-up) in 1982. The original trio was Frederick (eliminated in semifinals), Thomas Johnson (Class A champion), and Middletown (eliminated in semifinals) in 1975.
The 2013 edition of the county’s Big Three is now an eclectic mix: a football-on-hardwood team, a new program with its first class of seniors, and a 3-point shooting squad.
That’s what coach John Cooper says he would have called spectators if, at the beginning of the season, they told him that in three months his Hawks would be just 64 minutes of basketball away from a state title.
Yet here they are, prepared to make the trip to College Park on Thursday for a state semifinal game against Milford Mill (24-2) at 3 p.m. State title games for all classifications are scheduled for Saturday.
As far as basketball talent goes, Milford Mill has a significant leg up. The Millers are stacked with college prospects, according to an email Cooper received from Dulaney coach Matt Lochte. Sophomore point guard Justin Jenifer is averaging 14.3 points per game and has garnered interest from Indiana, Memphis, Georgetown, Ohio State and Syracuse, among others, while Allen Costley, a 6-foot-4 combination guard, was labeled by Lochte as “maybe the most all around skilled player in the county,” and is currently being recruited by South Florida and Temple.
“But, hey,” Cooper said. “I got two [Division I] football players.”
It didn’t take long for coach Terry Connolly to get the Ijamsville school to buy into a basketball-first mentality. In just his first year with seniors on the team, Connolly has led the Bears to their first ever conference title, county title, and state tournament berth. And it’s tough to imagine he’d have plans to stop there.
The Bears are scheduled to play Edmondson/Westside (20-5) at 7 p.m. on Friday in the state semifinals.
According to Mid Atlantic Select basketball coach James Lee, who has seen a little of both teams and also coaches Oakdale players Zach Thomas and Clay Conner, Edmondson has some size at the guard position, which might create a few problems for the Bears considering that guards Conner, Brian James, Austin Gouldin, Alex Moir and Jonathan Hoyle all stand below six feet.
The Bears still have some height at guard in Kevin Heine (6-foot-2), Zach Woodard (6-foot-1), Matt Carr (6-foot-0), and Thomas, who stands 6-foot-6 and can play any position on the court, to combat that, but Conner, Heine, and James are the most-used guards at Connolly’s disposal, meaning Oakdale is likely going to need another solid rebounding performance from Thomas.
The Railroaders made quick work of Allegany in their semifinal game on Saturday, jumping out to a 46-27 halftime lead and staying comfortably ahead the rest of the way. Their 73 points were the most they have scored all season, so to expect another 70-plus performance may not be all that realistic, but it also might be what they need to stay alive.
“When we’ve beaten teams pretty well, it starts with our offense,” junior Zach Hossler said after Saturday’s win, in which he scored a game-high 23 points. “And then our defense — just intensity, intensity.”
Brunswick is scheduled to play New Town (22-3) at 3 p.m. on Friday.
The thing that New Town does quite well that Brunswick is not known for is scoring, and scoring often. Prior to Saturday’s drubbing of Allegany, Brunswick had never eclipsed 70 points, a total the Titans have hit 11 times, including an 100-41 win over Carver A&T on Feb. 6.
This presents a dilemma for coach Dan McLane and company. Will they slow down the game in an attempt to take the Titans out of their element, or speed it up and try to keep up?