At the beginning of most sports seasons I make a wish list in which I detail the things I want to see happen, or, in some cases, not happen, as the campaign rolls along toward the playoffs. My winter sports wish list, at least for the last two years, has been somewhat repetitive, because I ask for the same things, namely for a Harford County boys basketball team to advance past the regional tournament stage, and for the season not to be marred over another rules violation controversy. As I'm writing this column, one day before the regional title games are set to start, I'm still waiting on both of those.
As you might know, the Joppatowne boys basketball team had to hand over its hard-fought UCBAC championship, which the Mariners had won last week with a 61-55 victory over Bel Air in the conference title game, after the team had been found to have violated a county and state rule concerning team practices. The Mariners, who as top seeds in the 1A East Section I tournament were supposed to have home-court advantage through the sectional final, and possibly in the regional final, had that taken from them as well, and are playing the rest of the post-season on the road.
I'm not going to speak for the team, but I don't think either of those penalties is so terrible. The UCBAC title game, which I talked about at-length in last week's edition, though it is icing on the cake for whichever team wins, is more a hyped-up, pre-playoffs exhibition game than anything. The teams take it seriously, which was evidenced by the Joppatowne vs. Bel Air matchup decided by just six points, but winning the Chesapeake or Susquehanna Division is the real accomplishment, and even that takes a back seat to the MPSSAA regional tournaments. As for losing home-court throughout in the playoffs, that might mean giving up a fractional advantage to the hosts, but it really comes down to who has the better the team that day. Joppatowne is certainly a good team, and I think they've got enough gas to advance to the 3A North regional final, and possibly past it (more on that in a moment).
I'm glad Joppatowne put the minor controversy behind it by winning its first playoff game on Tuesday, but my real concern is that this is the third year in a row a rules violation has caused some kind of shake up with UCBAC boys basketball. The 2011-12 season saw Elkton's dominant performance squandered when the Elks had to forfeit 19 of their first 21 games, and Aberdeen was taken out of the Chesapeake (upper) Division race last year under similar circumstances. I don't know if this is just a symptom of how transparent everything is becoming in the digital age (I said I was never going to use that word, because it's been beaten to death by people who are anything but transparent), or if the governing bodies are just becoming better at enforcing the rules. I'm going to guess this year's fracas wasn't caused by Joppatowne trying to gain some advantage with illegal practices, because I can't see that program pulling anything underhanded, but, whatever happened, I'd prefer that to be the last incident of its sort I ever see during boys basketball season.
My other big wish, to see a boys basketball team break Harford County's regional title drought, I think, has a fairly good chance of being granted this year (I say that every year though). Both Patterson Mill and Edgewood are heading to the regional finals in the 2A East and 3A North tournaments, respectively, and Joppatowne is one win away from making it to the 1A East title game. With three shots at a regional crown, I like my chances.