The scene at Oakland Mills High School was as electric as its ever been this season prior to its boys basketball team’s 68-55 win against Hammond on Friday night.
This event meant way more than a battle between league rivals. It served as a benefit game for Larry Aaron, a former Scorpions student athlete who was paralyzed after being hit by a stray bullet on New Year’s Eve.
The Oakland Mills booster club sold “93 Strong” T-shirts, the same number Aaron wore as a member of the Marshall football team, where he recently finished his freshman season. The bright green shirts spanned throughout the sold-out crowd, and both squads — as well as teams around the county — wore them as warm ups.
Both programs yearned to honor Aaron in any and every way possible, even if he wasn’t expected to be in attendance on Friday night.
But as Oakland Mills prepared to announced its starting lineups, with the gym lights dimmed and “All Of The Lights” blaring over the speakers, out came Aaron, surprising nearly everyone and elevating the atmosphere to an entirely new level.
“When I saw Larry, I was shocked because I didn’t think he was going to come,” Scorpions senior Ke’von Simpson said.
“Everyone was happy to see him,” teammate Sean Chance added.
“It was unbelievable,” coach Jon Browne said. “To see him come out of there, it was emotional for me, man.”
Aaron said he always planned on making an appearance — the doctors gave him the OK last week — and Friday night he sat next to the scorer’s table and watched as his alma mater honored him with a double-digit victory.
“Much love,” Aaron said. “That’s all I can say.”
Oakland Mills, which has now won seven of its past eight county games, received a huge boost from senior forward Robert Burgess, who drilled six 3-pointers on his way to matching his career high of 25 points. Junior guard Daeshawn Eaton (15 points) also did his part as the county’s leading scorer.
Then there was senior center Harrison Greggs, who Browne said has been playing with increased confidence lately. Greggs played “tremendous defensively” on 6-foot-7 junior Jalen Bourne, his coach said, while contributing on the offensive end as well with nine points.
Not known as a scorer, Greggs has averaged almost 14 points his past three games.
“We just all came together and had good chemistry and just played as a team,” Simpson said. “Finding everyone on the court and looking for the big men down low, especially Harrison [Greggs]. He’s always going to finish for you.”
The emotional pregame ceremony appeared to energize both teams early on, as they traded baskets during a clean and entertaining first quarter that ended with Oakland Mills (9-3 county, 13-4 overall) on top, 16-13. The Scorpions continued to produce offensively in a variety of ways before halftime, while Hammond (3-8, 5-12) relied on hot outside shooting.
Senior guard Cameron Stallings (12 points) hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter alone to help the Golden Bears stay within five at the break.
A 6-0 run out of intermission gave Hammond its first advantage, prompting Browne to call timeout just over a minute into the third quarter, but Oakland Mills quickly regained the advantage on a Simpson putback.
And after back-to-back 3-pointers from Burgess, it was coach Mike Salapata who needed to stop game action. In less than two minutes, the Golden Bears dug themselves a six-point deficit.
“For us, the whole key — our game plan — was to make sure we rebound, because if we rebounded the ball, we’re going to win the game,” Salapata said. “And I’m going to bet they got 30 points on second chance, and I might be low on that. The kids played hard, they didn’t play bad. We just gave them too many second chances, and ultimately that’s what killed us.”
Senior Robert Gordon and junior Micah Henry paced Hammond with 17 and 13 points, respectively, but when their shots caromed off the rim, Oakland Mills was almost always there for the rebound.
“Defensive rebounding, and obviously Burgess was on fire, which helped,” Browne said. “And I’m telling you, when he’s rebounding, he makes shots. When he’s into the game, all of his shots go.”
Holding a 47-42 advantage after three quarters, Oakland Mills used an 11-0 run to put the game out of reach and secure its 13th victory of the season.
And the Scorpions students wasted no time rushing the court once the final buzzer sounded. One student led the charge, waving the school flag as he ran onto the floor. His exuberant classmates joined him at midcourt.
Together they jumped up and down, chanting “Larry, Larry, Larry,” as the fans filed out of the gym after a heartwarming night.
“To come together for something like this and see [Aaron] come out, it’s everything,” Browne said. “It’s everything.”
Oakland Mills (9-3 county, 13-4 overall) — 68, Hammond (3-8, 5-12) — 55
OM — Burgess 25, Eaton 15, Greggs 9, Hairston 8, Simpson 5, Chance 4, Brown 2.
Ha — Gordon 17, Henry 13, Stallings 12, Bourne 11, Evans 2.
Half: 32-27, OM
Around the county
River Hill (11-1, 16-2) — 59, Wilde Lake (5-7, 6-11) — 43
River Hill coach Matt Graves tabbed the Hawks’ 16-point road win over Wilde Lake on Friday night as a “team effort.”
Five players scored at least seven points — senior Jaden Martin led the way with 16 points — as Graves’ group won its second straight game after falling to Mt. Hebron on Jan. 27.
RH — Martin 16, Champion 12, Okojie 10, Krause 9, Daniels 7, Mann 3, McKenna 2.
WL — Keys 12, Marshall 6, Joseph 6, Van Tassel 6, Mitchell 5, Hunter 4, Williams 2, Zimmerman 2.
Half: 31-20, RH
Glenelg (7-5, 9-8) — 63, Marriotts Ridge (4-8, 8-10) — 52
Glenelg senior forward Ryan Davis spoiled the Mustangs’ Senior Night by becoming just the third county player to score at least 30 points in a game this season.
Davis wasted no time, either, scoring 15 of the team’s 22 points in the first quarter. He had 23 points by halftime to help the Gladiators build a 40-22 advantage.
Davis only totaled seven points the final two quarters but didn’t needed to produce as much offensively with Glenelg in full control of the contest.
By hitting the 30-point club, Davis joins the exclusive company of Wilde Lake junior Trea Keys who exploded for 32 points in a win over Marriotts Ridge on Dec. 13, and Hammond senior Robert Gordon. On Dec. 27, Gordon scored 31 points in a 64-61 loss to Gerstell Academy.
G — Davis 30, Mills 9, Dick 8, Koele 6, Heigh 5, Soltis 5.
MR — Cole Brown 13, Held 10, Ingersoll 10, Lee 9, Brennan 3, Ross 3, Snell 2, Stepke 2.
Half: 40-22, G
Reservoir (7-4, 9-7) — 57, Howard (2-10, 3-14) — 36
After three straight defeats, two of which came in county play, Reservoir snapped its losing streak with a blowout win over Howard.
As usual, a variety of Gators players contributed offensively, namely juniors Josh Odunowo and Kaden Toler, who scored 12 points apiece.
Re — Odunowo 12, Toler 12, Mattocks 9, Saunderson 9, Moore 5, Harrison 4, Ricketts 4, McCallum 2.
Ho — Blanco 17, Wambura 9, Harris 5, Simmons 4, Wilson 1.
Half: 24-20, Re
Severn — 74, Chapelgate (3-8 MIAA B Conference, 12-12) – 38
CH — Wise 14, Hatcher 13, Heard 5, Morant 3
Half: 41-14, Severn
St. Vincent Pallotti — 62, Glenelg Country (3-9 MIAA A Conference, 6-13) — 45
GCS — Hornatko 12, Chase Paar 7, Rushdan 7, Charles 4, Owen 4, Robinson 4, Hendricks 3, Martin 2, Cole Paar 2.
Half: 24-23, GCS
Reach Kyle Stackpole at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @kylefstackpole