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Old rivalry has odd feel about it

January 30, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

There was a time when the Allegany College-Hagerstown Community College men's basketball matchup could make the hair stand up on the neck.

It was a rivalry laced with excitement, intensity and precision that had fans swallowing hard to calm down.

But this time around, when the Trojans and Hawks meet on Saturday at the HCC athletic complex, hair might be pulled out and the hard swallowing will come in the form of coaches popping antacid tablets.

It won't be the normal Allegany-HCC game. The weather and schedule is making sure of that. This will be the first of four possible meetings between the two schools this year and this one is the least important - or most important - one of all, depending on how you look at it.

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"We'll be well rested," HCC coach Kenny Keyes said. "We haven't played in a while."

"We started out 10-1 and we are only 15-1 now," Allegany coach Bob Kirk said. "We have only played five games since Dec. 15."

Holiday breaks and lousy weather have canceled a number of games for both teams. So instead, the Trojans and Hawks might find themselves trying to find a stride, instead of hitting one.

HCC (13-4) has had three of its last five games postponed by weather and has not played since Jan. 21 at Howard. The Hawks have missed games at Garrett and Frederick - both rescheduled for next week - and Wednesday's important matchup with Prince George's, a team which lost to Allegany by three points.

"That's why we wanted to play (Prince George's), so see how we might play against Allegany," Keyes said. "They are a big team and we have done well against the bigger teams. Now all we can do to get ready is to practice hard and stay focused on what Allegany does."

Allegany will enter Saturday's game after playing at Essex on Thursday and hosting Garrett on Friday. Allegany will be playing its third game in three days, but it is something the Trojans had to do.

"We have 10 games in the next 17 days," Kirk said. "We have to get ready for it because it is getting to be tournament time. We are ranked No. 7 in the country, but we still have to find out how good we are and if we are any good at all."

Allegany lost early in the season to Vincennes (Ind.) - the former top-ranked Division I JuCo team in the country - before winning its last 13 straight, some in less than convincing fashion.

"It's going to be great to be able to play another Division I team," Kirk said. "Every time we go out, we try to get better, but you like to see how you compare to the other teams in your division."

Allegany is led by the guard tandem of Sterling Ledbetter and Dwayne Shackleford. Shackleford is the leading scorer at 18 points per game with four rebounds and 6.4 assists. Meanwhile Ledbetter is averaging 15 points, six rebounds and 7.4 assists. The Trojans will also get 6-foot-8 Mike Castro, who has been injured, back into the lineup with his 12-point average to join 6-9 Tyronne Beale.

The Hawks have been living and dying on the play of their four main sophomores - Thomas Johnson, Andre Brooks, Rexson Kenley and Terrell Kittelberger.

HCC relies on its quickness to score as Kittelberger tops the list with 18.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Johnson is scoring at a 14.1 clip, but is the top rebounder at 8.7 per game, while hitting 58 percent of his shots, including 50 percent from 3-point range. Kenley is averaging 13.9 points at point guard while Brooks checks in at 12.8 per game.

"If the sophomores play well in this game, they will prove they are Division I material," Keyes said. "I think the talent is equal on these teams. It will be our quickness against their big guys. If we shoot well, no one beats us, and if we pick up the defense, that's even better."

But Saturday's game is for nothing more than measuring the opposition. Only one of the HCC-Allegany matchups count in the Maryland JuCo standings and that will be the one played at Allegany on Feb. 14. After that comes a possible matchup in the conference tournament and then an all-important meeting in the Region XX tournament in March, where two of the three Maryland teams competing that weekend will advance to districts with a chance to advance to nationals in Hutchinson, Kan.

So, Saturday might be the most important unimportant game of the season for both teams. And, oh yeah, it is a rivalry.

"We are just trying to get better and better," Kirk said. "There are still a lot of pride and bragging rights that go into this game while we are looking to find some consistency. Everyone seems to mark this one on their calendar. It's a nothing game, but you still want to do well every time you get into games like that."

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