FINKSBURG — Gerstell Academy made the jump four years ago from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association’s C Conference to the B Conference, and the Falcons earned their rewards in the form of back-to-back league championships.
Gerstell ascended yet again this winter fresh off the second of those two titles. Charting a successful course through the A Conference has been challenging, however, but the Falcons are doing their best to view 2019-20 as the start of another quest.
“When we’re in practice, we just challenge each other and try to get better," said junior guard Antwan Thompson after Friday’s 62-49 home loss to McDonogh. "We all know that we’re not doing as best as we wanted to do, so we’re just taking these growing pains and trying to improve as a team so we can come back stronger next year.”
Gerstell dropped to 7-18 and stayed winless in MIAA A play (0-14). Seven losses in the last eight games haven’t dampened too many spirits, said coach Ben Thompson, whose Falcons led the Eagles (13-14, 7-8) late in the second quarter before going cold on offense the rest of the way.
McDonogh forward Dani Dennis-Sutton had a big night inside, and the 6-foot-4 sophomore wore down Gerstell’s post players with a game-high 24 points. Jared Billups, a junior, aided the Eagles with 18 points down low.
Thompson scored 11 for Gerstell and Jeremiah Stanton, a fellow junior guard, led the team with 12 points. Dayyan Noble, the Falcons’ leading scorer coming into Friday’s game, got into foul trouble early on and finished with six points. Noble was averaging 15.5 points before Friday, with Stanton (13.9) and Thompson (8.2) behind him as regular offensive threats.
The results aren’t there in wins and losses, but coach Ben Thompson said the process is in place.
“Every single night, you’re playing against some of the better talent in this Baltimore-Metro area,” he said. “There’s no nights off. There’s teams that I think we’ve been very competitive with, we just haven’t been able to get over the hump.”
Gerstell led 17-13 late in the first quarter, keyed by a 16-foot jumper from Davis, before McDonogh turned to Dennis-Sutton started to take control. He went for eight points in the second frame, and the Eagles withstood a four-point pay from Noble to take a 34-30 lead at the break. They made seven of 9 field goals in the quarter, then outscored the Falcons 12-7 in the third (Gerstell shot 3-for-10 in that quarter).
Dennis-Sutton’s putback on a third attempt with 4:44 to play put McDonogh on top 53-43, and moments later he sank a 15-footer that gave the Eagles a 13-point lead.
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Stanton was averaging 2.7 assists and shooting 43% from the field, and Noble was chipping with 4.9 rebounds. Antwan Thompson led the Falcons in free-throw percentage at 77.8% (42-for-54), and he went 4-for-5 on Friday.
It wasn’t enough to help Gerstell pull out its first A Conference victory, but those wins will come. Ben Thompson and his players — only one senior on a roster that features three sophomores and six juniors — are confident in their plan, knowing how well it turned out the last time they made a move.
“You take a little bit more lumps these days, but that’s to be expected,” the coach said. “Another year under their belt, a year going through this transition, they’re excited every night to be playing some of the best teams around.”
McDonogh (62): Mathani Paul-Swinson 15, Jared Billups 18, Ian Robinson 4, Carlton Carrington 1, Dani Dennis-Sutton 24.
Gerstell (49): Jamari Glover 4, Antwan Thompson 11, Noah Spencer 6, Jeremiah Stanton 12, Dayyan Noble 6, Jaden Davis 10.
Halftime: McDonogh, 34-30.
JV result: McDonogh, 51-41.