Marriotts Ridge boys basketball beat Hammond, 63-56, in opening round of the 2A South region playoffs Friday, Feb. 27.
Marriotts Ridge coach Dave Appleby will be the first to tell you that this winter has not exactly gone according to plan.
Finishing at 4-15 in county play and having lost 14 of their last 15 regular season games, the Mustangs wound up 10th in the final Howard County standings. But Appleby has also been coaching basketball long enough to know that, once you reach the playoffs, nothing you have done leading up to that point matters anymore.
Wiping the slate clean, Marriotts Ridge (6-17 overall) put together one of its better all-around performances of the season on Friday night en route to a 63-56 victory over visiting Hammond in the opening round of the 2A South region playoffs.
"You know, we have five or six seniors on this team and we emphasized to them that this was their last home game and a chance to leave with a good taste in their mouths," Appleby said. "That was the motivation, don't worry about what's already happened, just worry about what is in front of you."
On top of it being playoff time, there was a little extra motivation for the Mustangs against the Golden Bears. Hammond (2-17, 3-20) had won the second regular-season meeting between the two squads by 15 points.
"Last game they beat us pretty bad and we kind of wanted to bounce back and get a little revenge on them," said Chris Morath, who came off the bench to score a season-high 12 points — all in the second half.
Morath finished as one of three players to score in double digits for Marriotts Ridge, as Pat Clipp poured in a team-high 19 points and Greg Speelman (14 points, 8 rebounds) also had a big evening.
The game itself, though, was exactly the kind of rollercoaster ride one might expect from two teams looking to take advantage of a new season.
The Mustangs raced out of the gates, scoring the first 10 points of the game and leading by as many as 13 points, 14-1, in the first quarter.
But the Golden Bears then came roaring back with a 9-2 run between the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second that made it a one-possession game. By halftime, Marriotts Ridge led by just two, 30-28.
Then early in the third-quarter, Hammond grabbed its first lead of the night.
"The kids have had that fight all year. They very easily could have probably quit on us a month and a half ago, but they've never stopped working," Hammond coach Mike Salapata said. "They always have given that effort, no matter what the situation."
A big part of the Hammond push back in front was the play of senior Malik Wilcher. At one point in the third quarter, after Marriotts Ridge had retaken the lead, Wilcher scored seven unanswered points on his own to give the Golden Bears a 44-40 cushion.
Wilcher finished the game with a game-high 25 points and Salapata had nothing but praise for his leader afterward in terms of his efforts to help the team be resilient tonight and all season.
"All you need to know about him was that he was cramping in his calves … but he left everything he had out there," Salapata said. "Honestly, in my 17 years doing this, he's been one of my favorite kids to coach. He's come to work every day and been a leader by example."
Extended runs were the name of the game in the final quarter. Marriotts Ridge scored six straight points to open the fourth, then Hammond answered with seven straight points to take a 51-49 lead with 2:53 remaining.
But it was the Mustangs' final push that ultimately decided the game. By attacking the basket, Marriotts Ridge was able to get to the foul line a total of 20 times in final eight minutes of the game.
And, by getting the right guys to the line — like Clipp, who made 12 of 14 free throws on the night — the Mustangs made the chances count.
Marriotts Ridge ended up closing the game on a 14-5 run and every single one of those points came from the foul line.
"(The mentality is) just do what we do in practice," Clipp said. "We hit them in practice, so we'll hit them in big time situations. Shout out to Chris Morath for knocking down some big ones."
Clipp and Morath combined to score 12 of the team's final 14 points.
Marriotts Ridge now advances into a match-up against Patuxent on Tuesday. But for the time being, Appleby says his guys deserved to enjoy this one.
"We have great kids. They are resilient, they learn from the past and they bought into the fact that this was a new season. We had a chance to be 1-0 and they did what it took to make that happen," Appleby said. "We played pretty good tonight … we had several kids who contributed off the bench and I thought that really put us over the top."
Chapelgate 74, Heritage Christian Academy 71 (Maryland Christian Schools Tournament)
Matt Frierson tied a season high with 41 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with under two seconds left to lift the Yellowjackets to the victory in the opening round of the tournament that continues this weekend. Frierson hit eight threes on the game.