With all the snow in the area during the last week, there hasn’t been a lot of game action but that doesn’t change the fact that, with five games left in the regular season, the race for the county championship and playoff seeds is very much in the air. Hammond holds a one-game lead in the county race and is the running for the top slot in 2A South. River Hill, which sits a game back of Hammond in the county race, is battling Stephen Decatur for the No. 1 seed in 3A East. The Columbia Flier/Howard County Times boys basketball beat reporter Brent Kennedy looks at those top two teams and the rest of the county in this week’s edition of the power rankings. As always, any questions or comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Hammond (12-2, 14-3). The Golden Bears keep rolling along, picking up wins over Mt. Hebron and Howard the last two times out. That makes 14 straight victories. There’s no denying that Hammond has depth – coach Karl Friedheim has 10 or 11 capable guys he can throw out there – but what really has taken this team to another level is the chemistry the seven to eight main guys have developed together. They’re unselfish and have four guys that are capable of pouring in 20 points on any given night in Brandon Bjerre, Cedric Blossom, Avery Terry and James Turner.
Hammond won’t look ahead, that’s why they’ve won so many in a row. However, the final game of the regular season, at River Hill, certainly is shaping up to be quite the showdown.
2. River Hill (11-3, 13-4). There’s really no shame in losing to Oakland Mills, especially a Scorpions’ team with Greg Whittington back, but the Hawks don’t have much room for error now if they want to catch Hammond. River Hill already lost to Hammond earlier this season and before the rematch of that game happens, there’s another meeting with Oakland Mills on the docket. In fact, four out of five of the team’s remaining games are against teams with winning records.
Varun Ram is a scoring machine of late, going for 18 points against Oakland Mills and 27 against Marriotts Ridge. The key is finding the consistent production from the supporting cast. If two other starters can score in double figures as well, the Hawks are nearly impossible to beat.
3. Oakland Mills (10-4, 12-5). It’s hard to state how important Greg Whittington is to the Scorpions. Not only is the team 1-3 in games he doesn’t play this year, but he gives the team a totally different look on both ends of the floor. He took over against River Hill in the fourth quarter with his midrange game on offense, scoring 16 points, and he alters 7-10 shots a game on defense. The team can only hope the issues that kept him out of two straight games during the team’s 3-game losing streak are behind him.
The Scorpions need some help to get back in the title race, but there’s certainly the potential to gain some momentum and a top three seed in 2A South for the playoffs.
4. Centennial (9-5, 10-6). After winning eight of nine games, the Eagles got a little bit of tough luck against Mt. Hebron on the road. Two-point losses are tough to swallow, no matter who you are. It’s even tougher, though, considering Centennial had a chance to pull within one game of River Hill in the seeding race for 3A East.
Still, Centennial has done a lot of good work to get itself into this spot. Earning a season sweep (two wins) of Oakland Mills is something no other county team will be able to have on its resume at season’s end. Sean Anderson and Matt Harbinson are both averaging in double figures scoring.
5. Reservoir (9-5, 11-5). An argument can be made for the Gators to be a spot higher on this list, especially considering the 24-point win over Centennial the team picked up in December. In fact, the two team’s resumes are almost identical. Each team has beaten Oakland Mills, each team has lost to Mt. Hebron, and each has lost to a team at .500 overall or worse. Right now, Centennial gets the edge merely for its two wins over top three teams (Reservoir has one). Reservoir and Centennial are scheduled to play again Feb. 18, so they ultimately will decide things on the court.
The fact remains that the Gators are at their best when utilizing their big-man combination of Shane Reybold and Eddie Hayes. Those two put up a combined 34 points in the team’s win over Marriotts Ridge and Reybold is averaging right around 20 points during the second half of the season.
6. Wilde Lake (8-6, 8-8). The Wildecats continue to be a tough team to figure out. They have won four out of their last five games, but that one loss was against a Howard team that has just four county wins. A season sweep of Reservoir is certainly nice to have in your hip pocket and the team also beat Mt. Hebron in their only meeting thus far. It’s also worth noting that the team is 5-1 at home this winter and three of the last five regular season games are on the Wildecats’ home court.
Dennis Williams is developing into one of the county’s top scorers, putting up 26 in the team’s most recent win over Glenelg.
7. Mt. Hebron (8-6, 10-7). The 35-33 win over Centennial Feb. 3 makes the Vikings 4-2 in games decided by two points or less this season. It also gives Mt. Hebron three wins over teams ahead of them in these rankings.
The one-two punch of Mike McCarthy and Zach Neal continues to produce, but any significant run down the stretch is dependent on another player or two stepping up to average between six to eight points a night. The likely candidates to fill that role come from a group made up of Ryan Fetzer, Chaz Scott and Deonte Moses.
8. Atholton (6-8, 7-10). Just when the Raiders seemed to be turning things around, winning two straight at the end of January, they turn around and lose games against Glenelg and Long Reach. Things don’t get any easier, with four of the last five games against teams with winning records.
The team really misses Connor Cortes (injured) and desperately could use their starting five being able to get back on the floor at the same time. It’s been since December that Coach Jim Albert has been able to field his entire squad. As for bright spots, Brian McMahon’s 19 points against Glenelg showed there’s help for Matt Robinson in the post.
9. Howard (4-10, 6-11). The Lions are seeing glimpses of their potential, beating Lansdowne and Wilde Lake for a pair of wins during their last four games. Right now, though, the consistency is just not there.
Kevin McDuffie has two straight double-digit scoring games in county play, but before that he had two straight outings of seven points or less. Reed Scott, who now leads the county in scoring, needs a little more help. Perhaps, though, the real key is on the other end of the court. When Howard holds the opposition under 70 points it is 6-3 this season.
10. Glenelg (4-10, 5-12). The Gladiators got Atholton back for the buzzer-beating defeat earlier in the year, but couldn’t sustain the momentum against Wilde Lake. Glenelg hasn’t won back-to-back games since mid-December. Not having Shane Kellaher, who averages in double figures scoring, didn’t help matters against the Wildecats.
Troy Spurrier has been playing well of late, going for 12 or more points in the last four games.
Others: Long Reach (3-11, 3-14); Marriotts Ridge (0-14, 0-17).
A year after County Executive Ken Ulman hosted a signing day/photo op for four Division I-bound football players, I thought I would have cooled down.
But I haven’t, because he’s done it again.
Friday, Feb. 5, Ulman hosted his second Signing Day Ceremony at the county government offices. This time three football players were honored – Howard’s Trey Jackson will play at Towson University, Atholton’s Matt Robinson is headed to Maryland and River Hill’s Kevin Johnson is off to Wake Forest.
Robinson and Johnson were co-Players of the Year in football last fall.
I have no problem with these young men being honored by our county executive. They are fine athletes who have worked hard for their Division I scholarships and deserve recognition, and Ulman is working equally hard to keep connected with the community.
What annoys me, and gets my ire up, is that this football only.
Howard County’s female athletes also receive Division I scholarships, and probably in greater numbers than the boys. For example, Wilde Lake’s Beth Glaros (lacrosse, University of Maryland), Howard’s Nicole Clark (soccer, UMBC), Howard’s Alyssa Kozlowski (soccer, Bryant University) and Chapelgate’s Kelly Stambaugh (soccer, Air Force Academy) have also accepted Division I college scholarships.
I suspect that they, too, might have enjoyed a face-to-face meeting with the county executive.
One of the founding concepts of Columbia was openness and equal treatment for all – that should include girls and players from sports other than the traditional “big three” – football, boys basketball and baseball.
Ten or 15 years from now, when Ken Ulman has a different job should one of his daughters earn a Division I college athletic scholarship, I wonder how he’ll feel if the county executive only recognizes football players at the annual meet-and-greet signing day celebration.
Come on, Ken, girls vote, too.
Andrew took his first job with the Howard County Times as an editorial assistant/obituary writer in 2001. He has written about an array of sports, from rugby to roller skate dancing. Andrew was a (mediocre) swimmer at Loyola College, but he enjoys playing many sports, including rec-league softball, kickball, basketball, football, soccer, and ultimate Frisbee. He would play rec-league unicycle badminton if he could find a league. He is a fan of all the Baltimore sports clubs, from the O’s to the Blast. When he’s not obsessing over the athletic endeavors of others, Andrew enjoys watching zombie movies from the 70s and 80s. He resides in Catonsville.