Around 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, the tunes of Ke$ha’s latest hit blaring from the gym just across the hall, a few Rockville High School boys’ basketball players danced their way into the locker room. Brian Ball, Nehemiah Jackson and Nnamdi Osakwe celebrated the minutes-old, 46-44 win over 3A/2A Division rival Poolesville with high fives and congratulatory hugs while three middle school up-and-comers stood just to the side, waiting to meet and greet the victors.
It was a much different scene than the one coach Steve Watson remembers from six years ago, when the Rams (15-5, 10-2) went 1-22, mired in a cycle of five consecutive sub-.500 seasons. There had been a certain losing stigma surrounding Rockville then. Tuesday’s win over the visiting Falcons (14-5, 9-1), who were previously undefeated in 3A/2A play, was a vindicating moment for Watson: any previous stigma linked towards Rockville basketball had been effectively extricated.
“When they were in sixth grade and playing I-270, we had them taking notes,” Watson said. “When they were seventh graders they won an I-270 championship. In eighth grade, got to start all over again. When they were freshman and I was coaching [junior varsity] we had a good JV team. When they were sophomores ... we had an up-and-down season, so it’s kind of been the full circle of experience.”
Watson readily attributed the 180-degree turnaround of the Rockville program to his core of five seniors, appropriate given it was senior night. And it was the seniors, Ball and Jackson in particular, who carried the Rams in handing the Falcons their first division loss.
Ball came out “inferno,” as Poolesville coach Kenny Kramek called it, scoring 10 points in the opening three minutes to put the Falcons on their heels early. A timeout was called just after the five minute mark and the score showed Ball 10, Poolesville 4.
Poolesville adjusted, limiting Ball to just 10 more points over the next 29 minutes, a considerable improvement, but the Falcons had no answer for Watson’s defense. He had learned from their last matchup, a 59-48 loss on Dec. 16, that to allow Craig Morton, Andy Baker and Anthony Papagjika decent looks on the perimeter was an open invitation to be torched. The zone defense he employed had the appearance of a 2-3, but Ball labeled it more as a “1-4-1” because the zone jutted so far out of the normal bounds of a 2-3 in order to close out on the shooters. Whatever it was, it worked.
Poolesville went 3-for-14 from deep in the first half, 0-for-8 in the third quarter, and 5-for-28 total.
While the Falcons struggled from the outside, leading scorer Trevor Stottlemyer fought to keep them in it, scoring 16 of Poolesville’s 20 points in the second and third quarters, somehow containing the deficit to three heading into the fourth.
“We even said at halftime we didn’t feel like we played very well and we’re down six,” Kramek said. “We look up midway through the fourth quarter, we don’t feel like we played very well, and we had a chance to win the basketball game.”
But it wasn’t to be. The Falcons were too cold, the Rams too solid across the board. Jackson hit an and-one to put Rockville up 45-44, a lead it held for good.
Afterwards, Ball was asked how many games he had left in a Ram uniform. The response would have likely floored anyone who had been around for that 2007-2008 season.
“Let’s see,” he said, grinning widely. “After Damascus and Sherwood, how many games left until we win a state championship?”
Indeed, times have changed at Rockville High School.
Rockville 46, Poolesville 44
Rockville (15-5, 10-2) 18 10 9 9 — 46
Poolesville (14-5, 9-1) 14 8 12 10 — 44
Rockville: Brian Ball 20, Nehemiah Jackson 15, Brad Rogers 4, Nnamdi Osakwe 3, Rakeem Hoy-Farria 2, Ben Wiebusch 2.
Poolesville: Trevor Stottlemyer 17, Craig Morton 13, Andy Baker 6, Mitchell Poe 4, Anthony Papagjika 2, Sean Parker 2.