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Pocomoke's pressure puts squeez on Rebels

March 17, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The South Hagerstown boys basketball team reached its objective to play in the hangar called the Comcast Center on Friday.

Unfortunately for the Rebels, the game was decided on an airport runway.

South Hagerstown tried everything but mosquito netting to protect itself from the swarming, relentless pressure by Pocomoke as the Rebels failed to repel the Warriors or the myriad of turnovers in a 72-60 loss in the Maryland Class 1A semifinals.

The Rebels were guilty of 27 turnovers against Pocomoke's 2-2-1 full-court press - the most telling coming in the final 5 1/4 minutes when they were outscored 14-2 - to fall to the defending state champions and the team that eliminated them from the semifinals last year.

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"You can press when you have five jets on the floor like we do," Pocomoke coach Dave Byrd said. "We try to wear people down."

And as it turned out, the Warriors (24-0) were only taxiing until the final stretch.

South Hagerstown hung tough for the first 27 minutes of the game, despite the turnovers and even led 53-50 after three quarters. But Pocomoke turned up the heat and the Rebels flamed out. In fact, South was in the game until the end despite having its top two scorers - David Miner and Ben Mertz - go scoreless in the second half.

"They broke our guards down," South coach Bob Starkey said. "We had Miner bringing the ball upcourt, but he's a point guard with a scorer's mentality and that doesn't work. They did exactly what we expected and we didn't take care of the ball."

Neither team lead by more than five points - owned by South twice - through the first three quarters. Pocomoke got the turnovers it wanted early, but had trouble converting them into scores, which allowed the Rebels stay in the game despite the shaky floor play.

"We kind of had a lid on the basket in the first half," Byrd said. "We were trying to get the lead so we could pull them out of the packed zone. We aren't a layup team. We are more of a 10-12 foot off the glass type of team because we aren't that big."

South (18-6) used the height of 6-foot-7 center Jesse Gutekuns in spurts to establish the inside and did a creditable job rebounding with the Warriors. But the 27 miscues to Pocomoke's eight became the undoing.

"We weren't used to a hard press like that," said Mertz, who finished with 14 points. "It took us awhile to get through it. We used what we learned in practice and it helped. We just fell apart in the end."

Jason Sellers hit a 3-pointer for South with 5:20 remaining to knot the game at 58-58 before Pocomoke's David Wilson hit a pair of baskets to give the Warriors the lead. Gutekuns hit a layup off a dish from Mertz for the last of his team-high 15 points to move the Rebels to within 62-60 with 4:16 left - which also became the last points South scored for the game.

With the lead in hand, Pocomoke decided to hold the ball to draw the Rebels out of the zone. With Miner on the bench with four fouls and the players on the floor needing rest, Starkey allowed two minutes to run off the clock.

From there, the Warriors' defense took over and Pocomoke hit 6 of 8 free throws down the stretch to pull away and ice the game for eight points in the last 1 1/2 minutes.

Jovon Schoolfield led Pocomoke, which faces Dunbar today at 1 p.m. for the state title, with 23 points while Eddie Miller had 22. Miner was held to 12 points but pulled down a team-high eight rebounds for South.

The loss put an end to an improbable run for the Rebels, who weren't considered a threat to return to the state tournament after last season.

"We want to get back here again," Miner said. "We want to meet them again. We got a little rivalry going."

Still, this year was one to remember.

"They were quicker and better with the press," Starkey said. "We didn't see anything like that all year and we hadn't seen anyone quite that good. You have to take care of the ball to win. This year's team was very gratifying. When we think about this game, we'll remember the 27 turnovers, but we have to be happy with everything we did this year."




Pocomoke 72, South Hagerstown 60


SOUTH HAGERSTOWN (60)

Mertz 5-12 3-4 14, Bussard 0-0 0-0 0, Gutejuns 7-8 1-1 15, Smith 4-7 1-2 11, Miner 4-14 3-5 12, Shaffer 0-0 0-0 0, Moyseenko 1-1 0-0 2, Cooper 0-0 0-0 0, McNabb 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Sellers 2-4 0-0 6. Totals 23-46 8-12 60.

POCOMOKE (72)

Miller 8-27 2-3 22, Laws 1-7 3-4 5, Wilson 6-15 0-1 12, Tull 3-7 9-13 23, Miller 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 26-70 16-27 72.

South Hagerstown 20 18 15 7 - 60

Pocomoke 20 17 13 12 - 72

Three-point goals - South Hagerstown 6-20 (Smith 2-2, Sellers 2-4, Mertz 1-4, Miner 1-10), Pocomoke 4-13 (Miller 4-12, Wilson 0-1). Rebounds - South Hagerstown 41 (Miner 8), Pocomoke 34 (Wilson, Schoolfield 9). Turnovers - South Hagerstown 27, Pocomoke 8. Technical fouls - Laws. Fouled out - Smith.

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