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Gloucester boys on the brink of first Peninsula District tourney since 1998

BasketballVirginia TechRobert Horry

When Gloucester basketball coach Christopher Morgan discussed goals with his players back in preseason, they were realistic. No one talked of a championship season or a deep run in the playoffs.

Just beat some teams they aren't supposed to beat, they said. And, for the first time since 1998, not be one of the two teams left out of the Peninsula District tournament.

"That's been the goal since day one," Morgan said. "They're tired of not making the tournament. Especially the senior class — that's what they want to leave behind."

Gloucester took a major step toward that with Wednesday night's 73-70 stunner of Kecoughtan — one of those teams it isn't supposed to beat. After winning nine district games over the previous 12 seasons, Gloucester improved to 4-8 in the PD (6-9 overall).

With six games remaining in the district's regular season, the Dukes now lead Warwick by two games for the eighth and final spot. Gloucester will play its final three games in its home gym, which has the PD's version of the Cameron Crazies.

Translation: The eighth seed is the Dukes' to lose. And they can possibly do better, a notion that isn't lost on them.

"We don't want to be eighth," senior guard A.J. Hamilton said. "That wouldn't be a step. We want to finish higher than that."

Keep in mind this is a program that from 1998-99 through 2009-10 went 9-207 in the Peninsula District. A program that finished 0-18 six times in 12 seasons. A program that had lost 43 straight district games until beating Heritage on Jan. 5, 2010.

But things are different now.

That confidence has led to wins. And even when the Dukes haven't won — like in a three-point loss to Bethel and a four-point loss to Menchville — they've gained admiration.

"Teams used to have no respect for us at all," Hamilton said. "They'd just go in and demolish us. But now, they know we can compete with them. They tell us, 'You guys have come a long way.'"

The talent is there. Three players are averaging in double figures — Hamilton (12.6 ppg) and juniors Chris Morgan (11.9 ppg, no relation to the coach) and Devont'e Smith (10.5 ppg).

There's also some younger talent. Sophomore Ryan Wilson might steal Robert Horry's nickname of Big Shot after his 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to beat Kecoughtan.

"I truly believe the talent has been in Gloucester for a while," Coach Morgan said. "This particular group, they started in parks and rec together, and I think that's a big reason they're having the success they had this year.

"We went to camp at Virginia Tech, and that gave us a chance to bond. We did another in the Middle Peninsula and were able get some wins in the offseason. And because the kids were able to get some wins in the offseason, that translated into the regular season."

As huge as the Kecoughtan win was, the Dukes' victory over Warwick helped set the tone. It came four days after the near-miss at Menchville and a week after the one-possession loss to Bethel.

"That really solidified in their minds that they can not only compete but win in the Peninsula District," Morgan said. "That got some momentum going."

Though Gloucester would be the No. 8 seed if the season ended today, it realistically could climb as high as sixth. Woodside and Denbigh, who have played one fewer district game each, are currently tied for sixth at 4-7.

The Dukes' final two games are against Woodside and Denbigh, both at home. And having become more used to winning, Gloucester is thinking higher. Making the tournament would be nice, sure. But even nicer as a higher seed.

"We don't want to just get in," Morgan the player said. "We want to be higher than an eighth seed, and we think we can be. That would mean a lot to us."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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