In the early stages of the third quarter Wednesday, following a lay-up by Centennial's EJ Fowler that trimmed Hammond's lead to two, Golden Bear's coach Mike Salapata called timeout and kept his message super simple.
"I literally didn't mention anything about Xs and Os. It was just flat out play with effort, play hard and have some fun," Salapata said. "We weren't having any fun, almost standing around at times, and I told them just go out there and play. Sometimes you just have to remind them about that."
The Hammond players heeded their coaches words, responding with a 12-3 run on the way to a double-digit lead that proved to be the difference in an eventual 71-57 victory on the road over the defending 3A state-champion Eagles.
Brandon Willis scored a game-high 23 points, leading a group of four Golden Bears in double figures scoring, in a victory that improved the team to 2-0 on the young season.
"I told the guys before the game that this was going to be a mental toughness game. Centennial always is a great environment, with everyone involved in the game. Parents, fans … they are all into it and yelling at you," said Willis, who had all but six of his points in the second half. "So we just had to stay poised and play together. This was a big one and we knew that."
Centennial (1-1) got big games from Tom Brown (16 points, 9 rebounds) and Andrew Hohmann (11 points), but in the end it wasn't enough to avoid losing the program's first game since the middle of last season against Oakland Mills.
"The game is always runs, and tonight every time we made a run, they made a run right back," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "You look at that, our struggles with free throws and some turnovers at some inopportune times … it all adds up. We've got to get better and that's good to realize that now because it's early.
"We didn't execute the way we had talked about and credit some of that to Hammond."
The first half was a back and forth affair most of the way. Centennial had itself a 7-6 lead in the early stages following a 3-pointer by Michael Merkey (9 points), while Hammond responded shortly after with a 8-0 run behind the play of Jarvis Doles (16 points).
By the middle of the second quarter, following three foul shots by Terrell Lamar (11 points), the Golden Bears had their largest lead of the game up until that point, 21-13.
But Centennial found a little life before the break, as Kaleb Addisu provided a spark off the bench to help trim the Eagles' deficit to just five, 29-24, at the half. Then, to open the third quarter, Centennial used a couple lay-ups around a Willis made foul shot to create a 30-28 game.
"We knew they were going to make a run, that's what good teams do, so I just told the guys we couldn't let Centennial speed us up," Willis said. "We had to keep making the extra passes and then finish around the rim."
The Hammond run that broke the game open started with three consecutive lay-ups by Matt Johnson and Ryan Ridgell (10 points). A Willis three and a couple more transition baskets in the latter stages of the third quarter extended things even further.
"When we dictate the tempo it's hard to stop, because even when we go fast we are under control. And we can also slow it down too," Ridgell said.
The closest Centennial got in the fourth quarter was seven points, following an Elijah White dunk with six minutes left. The Eagles didn't do themselves any favors all evening, especially in the second half as they tried to come back, shooting just 3-16 from the foul line.
While it's early, Salapata says the start is exactly what the program needed after winning just two county games all of last season.
"It's big for the school as much as anything else. Us coaches and the team, we know what we want to do, but the success hasn't been there coming off last season," Salapata said. "The buzz now is building. Howard and Centennial are two of the top three or four teams in the county in my opinion, so it's definitely a good start."
Hammond 71, Centennial 57
Ha (2-0, 2-0): Willis 23, Doles 16, Lamar 11, Ridgell 10, Johnson 7, White 4.
C (1-1, 1-1): Brown 16, Hohmann 11, Merkey 9, White 8, Addisu 6, Fant 4, Fowler 2, Smith 1.
Half: 29-24 Ha.
Oakland Mills 94, Howard 59
The Scorpions broke things open with a 35-point second quarter on the way to the lopsided victory. Naquan Williams-Day led the way with 27 points, as four Oakland Mills players scored in double figures. Tre Hopkins (19 points) hit five threes.
OM (2-0, 2-0): Williams-Day 27, Hopkins 19, Kiely 14, Aaron 12, Wheelock 7, Seyfriend 4, Smith 4, Campbell 4, McFadden 2, Rondon 1.
Ho (0-2, 0-2): Greene 19, Shuart 13, Walker 6, Scaife 6, Dawkins 6, O'Malley 6, Hawkins 2, Blanco 1.
Half: 45-28 OM.
Mt. Hebron 51, Wilde Lake 50
Johnny Linsenmeyer (game-high 21 points) hit a three-pointer from the wing with just over 10 seconds left to lift the Vikings to the narrow victory over the visiting Wildecats. Lance Madden also had a big game with 16 points in the win for Mt. Hebron, while Wilde Lake's Autsin Cantwell scored a team-high 18 in the loss.
MH (1-2, 1-2): Linsenmeyer 21, Madden 16, Horton 5, Schroder 4, Prox 3, Bates 2.
WL (0-2, 0-2): Cantwell 18, Stubblefield 16, Lampte 6, Ichrist 6, Barnes 4.
Reservoir 57, Long Reach 44
The Gators used a big third quarter, outscoring the Lightning 21-10, to pull away for the victory. Matt Winters scored a team-high 17 points in the win. Tre Morgan had 17 points in the loss for Long Reach.
Re (2-0, 2-0): Winters 17, Payne 10, Phillips 7, Omorogbe 6, Miller 5, Archampong 4, G. Garcia 3, J. Garcia 3, Akinbunu 2.
LR (0-2, 0-3): Morgan 16, Parham 8, Brodnax 7, Menusan 4, Ekop 3, Dix 3, Chad Brown 2.
River Hill 29, Atholton 24
After the Raiders went ahead 21-18 in the fourth quarter, the Hawks scored 11 of the game's final 14 points to earn their first county victory of the year.
RH (1-1, 2-1): DiSimone 7, Clark 7, Robinson 5, Isaac 3, Daniels 3, Mitchell 2, Ndiritu 2.
A (1-1, 1-1): Rankin 6, James 4, Waterworth 4, Mason 3, Rodgers 3, Mendelsohn 3, Jackson 1.
Glenelg 58, Marriotts Ridge 40
Annapolis Area Christian 80, Chapelgate 65 (Tuesday)
AAC: Everle 12, J. Williams 24, R. Rawlings 9, Clark 5, K. Rawlings 14, Bristol 10, Austin 2, Helkert 2, Banks 2.
CCA (): Graves 16, Mitchell 10, Ball 11, Hughes 13, Murphy 13, McCray 2.