Tom Brown, Centennial junior forward, and Chad Strothers, Centennial senior guard, discuss Centennial's victory against City, 65-56, in the 3A East region semifinals March 7, 2015. (Brent Kennedy/BSMG)
It may be a new season featuring squads that have different looks, but Centennial's boys basketball team still vividly remembers what City did to it in the playoffs last winter.
So, on Saturday afternoon at home in the 3A East region semifinals, the Eagles made sure they took advantage of their opportunity to get a little payback.
Opening the game on a 16-4 run, Centennial built a lead it never relinquished the rest of the way en route to a 65-56 victory over the Black Knights. The victory, which avenges that 38-point postseason loss last year to City, advances the Eagles into the region championship on Monday against River Hill.
"I was obviously not thrilled with the final score of last year, but the bottom line is that we lost to the team that won the state championship," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "But that said, does it feel good to get them back? Of course. I think our kids did a great job showing today that we belong playing with anyone. We proved that we are a pretty darn good basketball team."
Centennial (22-2) ended up with four guys — Chad Strothers (18 points), Tom Brown (13), Isaiah White (10) and Connor Clemens (10) — in double figures scoring to lead the way in the win. Brown was especially critical on the glass, pulling down a game-high 20 rebounds from his forward position.
Those efforts helped offset a game-high 22-point effort from City (16-7) guard Blair Davis.
Before the game, Hollwedel said he thought the game would come down to how well his team could limit City's points in transition. Ironically enough, during those first six minutes of the contest when Centennial built its lead, it was the Eagles who were getting out on the fast break.
Of the 18 points Centennial scored in the opening quarter, 14 came courtesy of baskets at the rim.
"We stopped them in transition and made them play in a half-court set, and then when we got those defensive stops it boosted our own transition," said Strothers, who scored eight points in the first-quarter push to an 11-point lead. "We were running on them and they weren't running on us and that got us off to a good start."
Centennial kept its foot on the accelerator in the second quarter, even as several starters got in foul trouble. Bench contributions from Elijah White and Michael Merkey — both who scored five points in the opening half — went a long way.
City, meanwhile, managed just five field goals in the opening 16 minutes on the way to a 34-22 deficit.
"Centennial did a good job … and I can't blame it on the three-day layover because of the snow because they had the same thing," City coach Daryl Wade said. "We just came out flat and they were able to pull into the lead. Centennial's a good team and I knew that going in."
Things didn't get much better in the third quarter for the Black Knights.
Centennial scored the first four points out of halftime to establish its largest lead of the night, 38-22. Even with a couple mini runs by City, the Eagles' lead was still 51-38 with just eight minutes to go.
But it was then, with their backs against the wall, that City finally found life. Four steals in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter led to seven unanswered points to trim the deficit to just six.
"We got a little desperate and when you play desperate ball you do things a little different. We finally decided to start to play in that fourth quarter," Wade said. "By then, though, we were so far behind that it felt like we were just constantly chopping away."
Six points ultimately was as close as the Black Knights got, as Centennial answered with a 6-0 run during the middle of the final quarter to open things back up. Then down the stretch the Eagles made enough foul shots to shut the door.
"We have played a lot of tight, tough games and had to adapt to a lot of different styles this season and I think those experiences helped us today," Hollwedel said. "Every time City made one of their little runs, we made a run back."
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Centennial now turns its focus to the region championship game against what will be a familiar opponent. The Eagles beat River Hill in the two teams only regular-season meeting, 49-39.
"Going into the next game, it's a Howard County rivalry so that's going to be big," Brown said "This gives us a lot of motivation going into the next game that we can do what we've got to do to get to Xfinity (Center)."