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Rebs' rematch not the same

March 13, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

On the surface, one could take Friday's boys Class 1A state semifinal rematch between South Hagerstown and Pocomoke at Comcast Center as a sign that, other than the venue, few things have changed.

A closer look reveals anything but deja vu.

Both the Rebels (18-5) and defending champion Warriors (24-0) have battled their way back to states. But that's where the similarities end - especially for South.

The Rebels haven't had any distractions this week. Last year, South's star point guard, Domonique Richmond, was removed from the team for disciplinary reasons, leaving understudy David Miner to take the leader's reins unprepared in an eventual 82-58 loss to Pocomoke, which went on to beat Dunbar for the title.

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"We had to move him to point guard, and he wasn't ready for it," South coach Bob Starkey said Wednesday after practice.

Over this season, Miner has progressed into the team's unquestioned leader, showing the way at both ends of the floor with his scoring and defense.

"He's night and day to what he was last year," Starkey said. "He's so much more complete."

"It's gonna be a big opportunity to show (Pocomoke) how much our team has grown and I've grown as a leader," Miner said. "Everybody in school says what happened (off the court) was what beat us last year."

The supporting cast is entirely different. Miner was the only starter who returned from last year's team, and none of South's other three double-figure scorers this season - Jesse Gutekunst, Ben Mertz and Jamel Smith - played significant minutes, if any, last season.

Gutekunst in particular has given the Rebels an unexpected weapon. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound junior has posted double-doubles in South's regional victories over Allegany and Southern Garrett, and had eight blocks against the Rams in the region final.

"That's all they've been saying, is 'We need you,'" Gutekunst said. "At the beginning of the year, I was worried about making the team. I was worried I'd get cut.

"No way did I think I'd play this big a role on this team. I was just worried about playing time."

Mertz merely hit the two biggest shots of the Rebels' season - the two 3-pointers that lifted South past Southern - and scored 33 points in a game against Smithsburg earlier this year.

Smith is a streaky outside shooter who can also manufacture points on the offensive glass, but his strength may be his on-the-ball defense against other teams' primary ballhandlers.

"I'm thinking defense first and let the offense fall into my hands," Smith said. "I'm gonna harass whoever I have to harass."

Pocomoke poses a tall test for South. The Warriors averaged 90 points per game while allowing only 50 per game, using their up-tempo pace to run teams out of the gym. If South is to pull the upset on Friday, the Rebels will have to play their best team defense all season while being patient, working for good shots and hitting them on the offensive end.

"We can't score 90 against them," Starkey said. "We have to have our 'A' defensive game all the way down the line."

It will take close to a perfect game, but South believes perfection is within their grasp.

"They're gonna think we are a pushover," Miner said, "and we have to come out, play hard and show them we're not."

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