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'Noodles' sticks in HCC success

March 04, 2002|BY BOB PARASILITI

They call him "Noodles."

It might be because of Mark Jennings' tall, lanky form. It could be because of how the Hagerstown Community College sophomore forward bends and contorts his body to get off jump shots.

Or it could be because he's the perfect ingredient in the Hawks' game plan. After all, Noodles make either a great side dish or a hearty main course.

Jennings is the staple to HCC's success this season, mainly because of his versatility. He has acquired a knack for blending in most instances, while becoming dominant when he's needed the most.

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"I've tried to take a selfless role," Jennings said. "I try to do what (coach Jim Brown) asks for - pass the ball, deny a guy on defense, rebound. It's part of being a team leader. I give everyone their proper respect. Some guys need to score to get into the game. I'm just doing the things that it takes for us to win."

Jennings admits he takes a quieter role when HCC has played some of the lesser teams on its schedule. That's when he's Noodles on the side.

When the Hawks have the chance to test one of the top junior colleges around, Jennings vows to give the opponents a heaping helping of Noodles.

"Coming into this season, I thought I could play and raise up my game against the better teams," Jennings said.

He has done just that.

Jennings has been the Hawks' most consistent player in all three games with Allegany College, the No. 8 team nationally and the Hawks' arch nemesis.

The 6-foot-7 forward might have to answer the bell one more time against the Trojans on Sunday in the Region XX Tournament at the HCC athletic complex - provided the Hawks can get past Garrett tonight at 8 in the Division I semifinal.

"Frankly, I'm getting tired of playing them," Jennings said. "I'm tired of seeing their faces, but this is a game we really have to win ... and it's at home."

The Hawks are 1-6 against Allegany during Jennings' two-year stay on Robinwood Drive, including a 1-2 record this season.

He's been in the middle of this year's three meetings, acting as the catalyst in January's 90-78 victory on Jan. 27, the first meeting in 12 between the schools that has officially gone HCC's way.

Jennings poked a hole in Allegany's game plan by stepping out on the perimeter and burying two key 3-pointers in the first half. A player of Jennings' size shooting from long distance forced the Trojans from under the basket and opened the game and tempo for the Hawks.

"I've just been getting good looks at the basket," Jennings said. "I go out and play off of what Jernavis (Draughn) and Darius (Hargrove) are doing."

Jennings scored 23 in HCC's win over the Trojans before following it up with 19 on Feb. 16 in a 72-67 loss in Cumberland. He only managed 11 last weekend in a 99-94 loss to Allegany in Frederick for the Maryland JuCo Conference tournament title, but again was the starting point in the Hawks' comeback from a 14-point deficit.

Jennings hit the first two baskets in the second half and opened the door for Hargrove to score 15 of his 27 points in a three-minute span. The Hawks led with 34 seconds remaining, but were outscored 6-0 to close the game.

"I was getting the ball and telling myself to take the ball and be aggressive," Jennings said. "I wanted to make it so they had to honor me. Those couple of shots definitely helped us, but then Darius took over."

Each of the three Allegany games has had its own unique complexion. If there is a fourth meeting, it will have the added pressure of a trip to the JuCo nationals.

"We are a running team with a lot of speed that can score 30-40 points in a hurry," Jennings said. "We have to beat their intelligence. We have to be smarter than they are and be more mature in the situation. If we play smart and stay within our system, we can win."

Of course, that means HCC will have to use their Noodles.

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