After last week's installment, which was cynical and somewhat angry, I'm going to a bit more positive this time around, and write about something I really liked, which was Wednesday's UCBAC boys basketball championship game. That game, which saw Edgewood capture its second straight conference crown with a thrilling, 59-55 win over Joppatowne, had just about everything I want to see in a sporting event. Those things are:
The game was very evenly matched: No matter which sport I'm covering, the UCBAC title games have a way of turning into blowouts, or, if not, they're often a demonstration of control by the Chesapeake (upper) Division team. In the girls soccer championship a few years ago, CMW beat Harford Tech, 2-0, which doesn't seem like a large margin, but the Mustangs had the game in the bag. It would have taken a giant misstep on the part of the CMW defense for Harford Tech to have closed that gap. In the same vein, Fallston beat Patterson Mill, 1-0, in the 2009 field hockey title game. That looks close, but Fallston controlled the game from start to finish, and Patterson Mill didn't have any real scoring opportunities.
With Wednesday's boys basketball conference title game though, I didn't see the scale tipping one way or the other. Joppatowne, the Susquehanna (lower) Division champ, ran up a 13-point advantage in the second quarter, but Edgewood, the Chesapeake title holder, was able to take back the lead in the third quarter, and after that the two teams were never more than eight points apart. Edgewood did have a size advantage in their two big men, Lolami Charles and Fortune Okigweh, but I never felt like Joppatowne was outmatched, which is often the case with a Susquehanna Division team.
The referees handled a physical, fast game superbly: After a somewhat slow finish to the first half, both teams came out fired up in the third quarter. The play was fast, and physical, and I saw a good number of jerseys being pulled during under-the-basket action (I don't think that's cheap, by the way, that's just playing good defense). The referees, however, didn't start blowing their whistles like mad, didn't start calling every hand check foul, and didn't let the flow of the game be interrupted.
The crowd was great: I heard no taunting of the referees (probably because they called a good game), I heard no vicious chants aimed at the opposite side's cheering section, I didn't even hear the "airball" chant when a player's shot missed the rim, and that happened at least five times. Maybe the Edgewood and Joppatowne fans live close enough that they know each other, or maybe everyone was just there to see a good basketball game, but none of the nonsense I've come to associate with high-intensity matchups came across. Good work, everyone.
The game's most important moment, as far as I'm concerned, came during a play that was pure hustle: With less than a minute remaining and Joppatowne trailing, 57-52, the Mariners' Khalil Gore knocked down a three-pointer to put his team within two. After getting possession back on a jump ball, the Mariners came back down the court to try and tie it, or possibly go ahead. A two-point shot was blocked from behind by an Edgewood player, and the ball went bouncing out of bounds, which would have given Joppatowne another shot. But, of nowhere came the Rams' Roderick Harrison, who leaped toward the ball, now about three feet over the end line, scooped it with his right hand and fired it back in to a waiting teammate. With time running down, Joppatowne was forced to foul, and Edgewood's Kevin Ringgold hit two free throws that would account for the game's final points.
So, in the course of one second, Edgewood went from having to defend against a possible game-winning shot, to possessing the ball in the final 15 seconds, all because of Harrison's hustle. Those are the kinds of plays I like to see.