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Rebels wading into deep waters in 2A

March 10, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

LAUREL, Md. - South Hagerstown boys basketball coach Bob Starkey knows it.

Lansdowne coach Doug Goff, Friendly coach Gerald Moore and James M. Bennett coach Bruce Wharton know it, too.

Of the four classifications in Maryland, this year's 2A final four is the toughest in the state.

"I don't think there's any doubt the 2A teams could all play with any team in the state," said Starkey, whose Rebels, the champion of the 2A West region, join the Vikings, Patriots and Clippers as No. 1 seeds from their regions. "To have four teams in the playoffs all with 21 wins is astonishing. Usually an underdog slips through somewhere."

"The No. 1-seeds all made it," said Goff, who will lead Lansdowne (21-4) into Friday's semifinal game against South Hagerstown (23-2) inside the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland-College Park. "Nobody's going to squeak through this class. I can't think of any other region all the No. 1-seeds made it."

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Thirty of the 32 state high school boys and girls basketball coaches who qualified for the state semifinals met for the annual MPSSAA press luncheon Tuesday at the Best Western Maryland Inn.

For a change, South - which is used to being the team with a bullseye on its back - will be considered a side attraction by many Friday. That's because the day's other semifinal pits defending 2A champion J.M. Bennett (25-1) against last year's 3A champion Friendly (23-2), considered by many as the best public school team in any class in the state.

"I thought (Friendly) was the best team in the state tournament last year," Wharton said. "With Friendly being down in 2A now, it's going to be a challenge for anybody to beat them. It's gonna be a heck of a task for us to win that game."

"If you have to take one favorite, I guess we are the favorite," Moore said. "If we win it all in the 2A right here, I'll believe (we're the best team in the state), but I don't believe what all the people say. ... (The semifinal) is going to be tough and I think it's going to go down to the wire."

The Rebels - who will face Lansdowne at 9 p.m. Friday after J.M. Bennett and Friendly play at 7 - are making their third straight trip to College Park and fifth trip in seven years. This is the first year South has been in 2A during the run.

In that regard, the Rebels have an experience edge over Lansdowne, which won the 2A North region and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history.

"This was our goal," Goff said. "We made it to the region championship game last year and lost. We would have been very disappointed not to get here (this year)."

Now comes the tough part for everybody. With the four teams having a combined record of 92-9, there will be no easy games.

"It's an awesome test," Starkey said. "(Our kids) probably don't realize what they're in for yet. ... I have to believe this is the best four teams in one tournament I've ever seen."

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