Boys basketball: Leopards try to jump from state semis pan into final fire

March 06, 2012|By TIM KOELBLE |

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Smithsburg coach Eric Gerber sat at the boys Class 1A table during Tuesday’s pre-tournament luncheon between two schools that have prolific numbers when it comes to state championships.

On one side was Cyrus Jones, coach of the Dunbar Poets, who will be making their 18th state semifinal appearance. On the other side was Derrick Fooks, coach of the Pocomoke Warriors, who also will be making their 18th appearance.

For Smithsburg, this is just the third trip and the first since 1988.

Next to Fooks was New Town coach Michael Salapata, who will match up his Titans against Smithsburg on Friday at 5 p.m. in the semifinals of the Maryland Class 1A state tournament at Comcast Center.

“I’m glad we’re on the opposite side of the bracket of Dunbar for the first game,” quipped Gerber.

The two-time defending champions open at 3 p.m. against Pocomoke. In state history, the Poets (22-3) have won seven titles and Pocomoke (22-3) has won three.  Even New Town (19-6), in its ninth year of existence, has a 2007 state title to its credit when Salapata was an assistant coach before taking over the varsity.

“We’d love to be playing in the final,” said Gerber. “As usual we’re going to be at a height disadvantage. (New Town) has a lot of weapons with balanced scoring and strong rebounding.”

New Town has five players who average between eight and 13 points per game.

Josh Gerard, a 6-foot-3 guard, averages 13, but it was 6-3 guard Jalen Clarke who came through with a 27-point effort in a region final win over Western Tech.

“We don’t rely on one player,” said Salapata. “We rely on nine, 10 players. We want to get up and down the floor. Our offense has not been a problem this year.”

The Titans’ record is likely deceiving, as they’ve lost games to larger Baltimore city powers, such as Milford Mill, City College and Owings Mills, as well as Digital Harbor.

“We think we can play with anyone,” said Salapata.

The Leopards are fresh off a 60-54 overtime decision against Southern Garrett, their 20th win in 25 starts, their most since the 1979-80 season.

“We’ve been the smaller team against everyone this year so we just deal with it,” said Gerber.

Gerber said he had a short message for his players on Monday.

“I told them to enjoy their accomplishment as region champions but to stay balanced,” he said. “Don’t be satisfied.”

Seniors Jordan Fortson and Trent Springs, each at 5-11, are the scoring leaders. Fortson averages 17.0 points per game and Springs is at 15.8.

The Dunbar-Pocomoke battle, which some observers already have pointed out as the championship game, should be an up-and-down the floor affair.

Dunbar averages 68 points and Pocomoke 75 points a game.

“We’ve got five senior starters that are disciplined,” said Jones, completing his third year as head coach.

Three of the five starters averaged in double figures led by 6-2 guard Evan Singletary at 15.0 points per game.

Dunbar’s losses have been to powers Milford Mill, Edmundson and City College and marquee victories include two over Baltimore power Patterson.

Pocomoke has four starters averaging double figures, led by 6-2 junior forward Jakil Pritchett at 15.3, along with 10 rebounds a game.

The winners return to Comcast on Saturday at 1 p.m. to play for the 1A title.

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