The Edgewood Rams figured they were not going to cruise to a victory over Joppatowne in Wednesday's UCBAC boys basketball championship game, and it turned out they were right, as they battled back from a 13-point, second-quarter deficit to beat the Mariners, 59-55, at C. Milton Wright.
With the four-point win, Edgewood notched its second straight UCBAC championship. The Rams earned their spot in the title game by winning the Chesapeake (upper) Division with an 11-1 mark.
Following Edgewood's tight win, the Aberdeen girls made it two UCBAC crowns in a row, routing Edgewood, 62-23. Aberdeen, champions of the Chesapeake, overcame a slow start and outscored Susquehanna champ Edgewood, 51-13, over the final three quarters.
"Joppatowne is a really good team, and we don't take them lightly," Edgewood Coach Austin Hill said after his team's victory. "We knew it was going to be a tough game, and that they weren't going to roll over for us."
Joppatowne, which captured the Susquehanna (lower) Division title with a perfect 14-0 mark, came into Wednesday's title game riding a 13-game win streak, with their last defeat a 61-57 loss to Edgewood on Dec. 28 at Joppatowne's Christmas Tournament.
The Rams found themselves trailing, 21-12, after one quarter of play, and then watched the Mariners open the second quarter with a 4-0 run, which extended the Joppatowne lead to 25-12. Edgewood, spurred by the play of seniors Lenier Tucker, who finished the game with 14 points, and Detrick Matthews, buckled down to outscore the Mariners, 12-6, over the remainder of the second quarter, cutting the Mariner advantage to 31-24.
"We always expected to be able to come back," Tucker said. "We've faced that kind of adversity all season. We beat Aberdeen and Patterson Mill, and were down 15, 17 points. We believed and made it happen tonight, too. Joppatowne is always a good matchup for us. Every time we play them, since my freshman year, it's a good game. They always bring it."
The Rams came out of the halftime intermission focused, and quickly cut the Joppatowne lead to 33-32 by outscoring the Mariners, 8-2, over the first four minutes of the third quarter. Down by just one, the Rams took a 34-33 lead when Tucker jumped in the paint and tipped in a missed shot.
Up by 38-35 in the final seconds of the third quarter, Edgewood got another big shot from Tucker, who knocked down a 15-footer to give his team a 40-35 lead heading into the final quarter.
Edgewood big man Fortune Okigweh scored the first six points for the Rams in the fourth quarter, helping to hold off the Mariners, who scored on their first three possessions.
"Fortune came up big in the fourth quarter," Hill said. "He changed the game around for us with that run he had. That was huge."
Joppatowne drew to within a point of the Rams, with Matthew Jones converting a three-point play after being fouled, and Jermaine Head Jr. knocking down a three-pointer in the corner, but 46-45 was as close as the Mariners would get.
The Mariners' Khalil Gore hit a three-pointer with just under a minute remaining that put Joppatowne two behind the Rams at 57-55; those were Joppatowne's final tallies. Edgewood's Kevin Ringgold was fouled and knocked down both of his free throws, giving the Rams a four-point lead they held through the final buzzer.
"We're a resilient team," Matthews said. "The whole season we've been playing games like this, having to come back from being down. But, we were built for it. Joppatowne is a scrappy team. They always give us their best."
Matthews finished the game with nine points, seven rebounds and two assists, while Tucker, in addition to his team-best 14 points, had seven rebounds, two steals and two assists. Okigweh came through with 10 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a team-high four blocks. Lolami Charles registered nine points, three blocks and led the Rams in rebounds with 14. Ringgold paced Edgewood in assists with six, while teammate Roderick Harrison posted eight points and six rebounds. Edgewood's Jaleel Gibson had five points and four rebounds.
Leading all scorers was Joppatowne's Matthew Jones, who netted 18 points. Markell Huggins had 11 points in the loss and teammate Khalil Gore scored 10.
Eagles roll over Rams
Despite the lopsided final score, the Eagles (20-3) struggled early, missing free throws (3-for-9 in quarter and 5-for-21 in half) and layups. The combination allowed an undersized, but determined Edgewood team to hang tough early.
"I think in the beginning we just weren't ready to play. I think we came in here and we took a lot of things for granted," Aberdeen Coach Amber Milnes said. "We weren't focused, we weren't ready to play. They clearly came in here and were ready to play us."
Edgewood (16-7) led 3-0 on Shania Stamper's long range basket, but trailed 11-10 after one quarter.
Aberdeen freshman Stephanie Jones (23 points) took over in the second quarter, scoring 10 straight points and finishing with 16 in the quarter. The scoring run by Jones blew the game open, putting Aberdeen ahead, 30-14.
"We did start out a little slow," Jones said. "I don't think that we thought they would come out as hard as they did, but we should have because they're a good team."
What little chance Edgewood had of mounting a second half comeback was dashed when Aberdeen scored the first eight points of the third quarter to lead, 40-14.
Edgewood scored its first basket of the half with 3:40 left in the third quarter. It was the second straight quarter the Rams were limited to four points.
Aberdeen outscored Edgewood in the final quarter, 12-5, to finish off the win.
Senior Jimmia McCluskey was the only other Aberdeen player to score in double figures, finishing with 14 points. Kierra Palmer and Nazje Norton added nine points each.
Edgewood was led by Stamper, who netted 14 points.
"We came out hard and they just lost the energy," Edgewood coach Quon Paulin said. "I told them we can't play Aberdeen's game. I can't expect them to. We're the underdogs."