Cohesive Park learning how to win in C Conference

When Derrick Larkins took the Park coaching job in the offseason, he couldn't help but be optimistic about the Bruins' potential for success the next two seasons.

After all, Larkins guided the Bruins to a junior varsity championship and 13-1 record last February, and he figures that core group of nine players would be around for back-to-back-seasons.

Now that three of those players are in Park's starting lineup, including junior power forward Jack Curley, senior guard Reid Danels and junior guard Francesco Porcarelli, Larkins believes the Bruins have a legitimate shot to grab a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference crown by the time the 2014 season is done.

"We are a small school and we have guys that are sticking together and playing basketball together their entire lives," the coach said. "I think it's a rare situation. We have guys that are comfortable together and have won together. They know how to do it."

His theory was born out by the way Park started the season in league play, beating Baltimore Lutheran, Gerstell Academy, current league leader Cristo Rey and Key School by at least 10 points each.

That's before Park struggled over its next six league games, going 2-4.

Larkins says his team just needs to correct a few things and be more consistent with the regular season winding down.

Still, the Bruins (9-5 overall, 6-4 league) are in good shape to make the playoffs, sitting in fourth place in the conference behind Indian Creek (8-2), Cristo Rey (7-2) and St. John's Catholic Prep (6-2).

The top six teams in the nine-team league qualify.

"The conference is pretty much wide-open right now," Larkins said. "We have had some ups and downs. We have a young team. A lot of juniors are running the team. We have flashes, where we look really good, then we won't hold it together. It's a lot little things we need to work on."

Besides Curley, Danels and Porcarelli, seniors Patrick Gerald, Daniel Pineda and Eric Sussman and juniors Amani Lawson, Khalil Mirza and Dylan Schultz all moved up to the varsity this season.

"A lot of guys didn't understand what the varsity is," Larkins said. "They were thinking their success at the JV level would translate to the varsity level. I tell my guys all the time, 'The varsity is a completely different machine than the JV.' But we are growing and improving every day."

Lawson and Porcarelli have made a smooth transition.

Porcarelli is averaging a team-high 18 points per game while Lawson, the team's sixth man, contributes 14 points and eight rebounds per game.

Porcarelli's best games came in a 69-58 victory over Gerstell Academy (23 points, 6 rebounds) and a 62-56 conquest of Grace Bible (21 points).

"If my entire team had Francesco's attitude, I know that we wouldn't lose games at all," Larkins said. "A lot of times, everything we are doing runs through him. He is like a third coach on the court."

The 5-foot-11 Lawson has recorded four double-doubles this season.

"He is very undersized, but probably best rebounder on our team," Larkins said. "He is one of those kids that really has stepped up for us."

Park's coaching staff hopes the team steps up in upcoming road games against Indian Creek (Jan. 23) and St. John's (Jan. 30), both of which posted wins over the Bruins in Brooklandville earlier this season.

They fell to Indian Creek by seven points on Dec. 17 and, two days later, fell to St. John's by 13 points.

"We need a consistent effort," Park assistant coach Josh Ackerman said of the stretch run. "The expectation is that we will give it our all. We are working on fundamentals right now and, hopefully, that can help us to a championship."

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