After four high-flying days of the Governor’s Challenge and other Christmas tournaments, it’s time for hoops squads on the Shore to receive their 2014 grades on the season thus far.
There are not too many surprises, but one thing is for sure, it is going to be a frantic and tight race to the end of the season for Bayside title dreams.
Parkside (7-1, 4-0) A
The Rams were the favorite coming into the season, and all signs are still pointing to Parkside as the team to beat in 2015.
The addition of Colen Gaynor from Stephen Decatur to an already stacked squad with Dajour Diggs and Juwan Williams has evolved into a partnership that was unstoppable in the opener versus Easton, a 98-37 victory.
The Rams’ highlight reel continued in the Governor’s Challenge at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.
Parkside also came back from 10 down against 2A Baltimore city school Patterson to win 69-67 and also hung with Friends School from Baltimore, but this time lost for the first time all season 54-52. The game had some controversy with a foul called late on Diggs and an extra timeout granted to Friends, but the Rams (7-1, 4-0) are focused on the future since that was considered an exhibition in the eyes of the state of Maryland.
“I feel good,” Gaynor — who finished with a team-high 12 points — said Saturday about the season ahead. “We had a good game, but we lost.
“We’re just going to do the same thing we’ve been doing from here.”
Diggs felt the same on Saturday.
“We’re not going to give up, we’re going to be right there,” Diggs said.
Washington (5-2, 3-1) A-
After a disappointing end to the previous season, the Jaguars returned invigorated, winning four of their first five games and blowing out Mervo in their opening game of the Governor’s Challenge.
While their record is a good indicator of where they are now, Jaguars head coach Nick Purnell said there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done before they can get where they need to be.
“We still got a lot of work to do. We’re putting up a lot of points, but at the same time we’re giving up a lot of points,” he said. “On a scale of 1-10, we’re about a 61/2. At the end of January, we want to be an 8 1/2, then going into the playoffs, we want to be a 10. It’s going to be a slow process and it’s going to be day-by-day, but we’re getting better. We got effort, we just got to bear down on defense and then we’ll start getting better results.”
Pocomoke (6-2, 3-1) B+
Pocomoke showed everyone at the Governor’s Challenge that if the Warriors play their style of defense, they can compete with anyone.
The Warriors defeated 2A Randallstown and hung with 4A C.H. Flowers, only losing 64-61 after being down by a large margin.
Pocomoke could be an underdog as the season progresses.
“We’re still learning how to get our hands out and not do so much reaching,” head coach Derrick Fooks said. “We’re not tired, we’re just lazy. As the season goes on, we’re going to get better at that. Who knows what can happen the rest of the way.”
Wicomico (5-2, 3-0) B
The Indians lost both of their Governor’s Challenge games after coming into the holiday tournament undefeated, but head coach Butch Waller learned a lot about his team from playing against tough competition.
The tourney is always a chance for Waller to review his players and improve.
Waller said he sat two starters, Jordan Brittingham and Trevell Jones. He’s going to play the guys with the most heart.
That being said, the veteran coach always has his team performing its best come playoff time.
“Hopefully in the next seven weeks, we can make a run in the state playoffs,” Waller said. “To me, that’s the whole scenario of coaching high school sports. You prepare them best you can to be successful and come playoff time, when you’re one and down, lay it on the line.”
James M. Bennett (4-3, 1-3 Bayside South) B
Two straight wins at the Governor’s Challenge could not have come at a better time for the Clippers.
Bennett was reeling from three straight losses away at Pocomoke, Washington and Parkside, but in the annual Christmas tournament, JMB looked like a different team. The Clippers were aggressive on defense and the boards, taking home two wins, 75-72 against J. H. Blake and 60-55 against Westminster.
The key for the Clippers won’t be if they can score, but to keep up the defensive intensity.
“It’s like anything, when you go through adversity, when you go through competition, when you go through that fire, you come out better in the end,” JMB assistant coach Dustin Mills said. “We have a saying that the strongest steel comes through the hottest fire. Going through that game of Washington away, Parkside away, Pocomoke away, that was a tough early season schedule and two out of three of those games, we dropped the ball.”
Decatur (3-4, 1-2) C-
This grade might be a little too high for the struggling, young Seahawks.
After looking dynamic and confident in the early part of the season, Decatur looked dismal in the Governor’s Challenge, losing to Aberdeen and Delmar by 28.
Head coach B.J. Johnson stressed fundamentals after the loss and said his Seahawks (3-4) won’t be ready until they can dribble and pass.
Crisfield (1-6, 1-3) D+
It’s pretty simple: The Crabbers are struggling to find their identity with new coach Marshall Toddman and a new group of core players.
After back-to-back losses, Crisfield needs to reconfigure its game plan before the Crabbers return to action Jan. 6, on the road against Pocomoke.
Look for the Crabbers to improve as the season continues — they can always be a trap team for the other local 1A schools.
“Right now we still have a lot of work to do,” Toddman said after the loss to North Caroline. “We have a young team made up of some freshmen, sophomores and juniors, so we’re practically in the rebuilding stage. We expect to compete, but we just have to get guys playing at a higher level. I’m trying to get them to be more of a defensive team, but that’s a work in progress right now.”
Snow Hill (2-4, 1-3) D+
The Eagles, who did not participate in the Governor’s Challenge, have already improved their midpoint record and overall win total from last season (the Eagles were 1-21, 1-16 Bayside) by scoring wins against Cambridge-South Dorchester and Mardela.
Not only did Snow Hill improve statistically, but its roster is bolstered by the return of senior guard Manny Pinkney and the addition of freshman Ameer Fisher.
Snow Hill head coach Byron Arunella, in an interview last month, said Pinkney has played a huge role in the team’s minimal improvements.
“You get that leadership back and someone who knows the system and knows the plays, and besides improving us, he does a good job keeping us positive and bringing each other up,” he said. “He hit some big shots in that first game and he had a couple of threes, and it just kind of got us a spark and got the ball rolling, so to speak.”
The early portion of the second-half schedule will be a murderer’s row of competition as four of the Eagles’ first five games are against Wicomico, Stephen Decatur, Pocomoke and Washington. Snow Hill does play Crisfield, which could be a good chance to get a win.
Mardela (1-7, 0-5) D
For the Warriors (1-7), Nate McCoy can’t do it all.
They are still young, with McCoy being one of four seniors.
Mardela hasn’t played a complete game yet this season, and if they do, the Warriors could be a touch matchup for Bayside South conference foes.
The Warriors suffered two defeats in the Governor’s Challenge, and head coach Shawn Tucker is always optimistic that his team can grow.
“In spurts we showed intensity, and we still ran our sets until the end of the game,” he said after the loss to Cambridge-South Dorchester. “Some teams hang their head and let it free fall, but we still fought.”
Laurel (4-2) B+
After a run into the Division II playoffs last season, Bulldogs head coach Shawn Phillips entered the year having to hastily put together a roster, as many members of his squad played on the football team that made a run to the state championship game.
“It was tough with football going so far, and it was tough on the basketball program,” said Phillips, who was also an assistant coach on the football team. “Having a week and two days or a week and a half to get ready for your first game and then you’re playing three games in five days, it’s tough to get where we were, but it just shows what kind of kids and coaches we have to get that out of the kids and be 4-0.”
Delmar (4-3) B
At the Governor’s Challenge for Delmar, fans saw the good and the bad of the Wildcats’ team.
Head coach Tim Velasco has three great shooters in Larry Ennis, Kavon Trader and Shane Leatherbury, but he said he needs the whole team to work together to win.
Against Parkdale, it was too much one-on-one, but that changed against Decatur for the 28-point win.
The issue of which Delmar side shows up in 2015 will decide its fate.
“To end the year with a win, it’s great to end 2014 with a win,” Velasco said.
Worcester Prep (4-4) C+
Participating in its first ever Governor’s Challenge, Worcester Prep showed it can hang with teams sometimes, but when the shots aren’t falling, the Mallards can’t.
Both sides of the Mallards were on display after a close call with North Dorchester on Monday morning followed by a blowout loss Tuesday against Harford Christian.
If the Mallards can improve their shooting, they could be the favorite for the ESIAC crown after getting some experience against tough competition.
Salisbury School (2-2) C
The defending ESIAC champions defeated Salisbury Christian the other night, giving the Dragons the slight advantage at 2-2, while Salisbury Christian (D+) sits at 1-3.
The key for the Dragons will be Bendi Pappi, who had 36 points on Tuesday.
Both teams will need to improve, however, to keep pace in a very tight ESIAC.
Holly Grove (1-2) C
The Eagles are 1-2 to start the season and are in a conference that anyone can win. Now that conference play has begun, Holly Grove can control its own destiny.
• Earl Holland contributed to this report.