CHESAPEAKE BOYS HAVE A SHOT AT REGIONAL HOOPS PLAYOFFS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It would be something new. But if you haven't noticed, Chesapeake High's boys basketball team has a shot at making the Class 4A Region IVplayoffs.

The Cougars never have had a winning season in boys hoops but could come close to that or possibly a .500 campaign.

Going into Friday night's home contest against Broadneck, the Cougars stood at 4-7 after a near upset of Old Mill on Wednesday. With a break here or there, the Cougars very easily could be 6-5.

There is no question that the first four seeds in 4A Region IV for postseason play will go to Annapolis (11-1), Broadneck (10-2), Meade (10-3)and Old Mill (9-3). The final two seeds of the six-team regional playoffs are up for grabs, and at the moment, Chesapeake looks like one of the two.

Chesapeake (4-7), LaPlata of Charles County (4-6) andSeverna Park (4-8) are neck and neck followed by Arundel and Glen Burnie, both 3-9 each. North County and Queen Anne's are just about history, barring miraculous turnarounds at 1-10 and 1-7, respectively.

Region IV with 11 teams is the largest of the four Class 4A regions in the state.

It was back at the Bob Pascal Tournament at Chesapeake during the Christmas holidays that the Cougars of Tom Kraning (2-20 last season) showed how far they have come.

Losing in the final of the Pascal Tournament to streaking Class 2A Northeast (9-2) by52-50, the Cougars had the ball in the final 35 seconds but couldn'tmake the game-tying shot to force overtime or the three-pointer to win.

This past Wednesday night, again at home, Chesapeake found itself in position to upset Old Mill. The Patriots were coming off Tuesday's stunning 68-62 upset of previously unbeaten, defending state 4Achampion Annapolis.

Once again, the opportunity was there as theCougars had the ball in the final 19 seconds with Old Mill holding a52-51 lead.

"We fought back from a 10-point deficit in the second half, took the lead, then they got it back," said Kraning. "But with 19 seconds left, they led 52-51. Once again just like the Northeastgame in the Christmas tournament, we called a timeout and thought wehad our strategy set, but it didn't happen.

"I think it was a matter of not having the confidence to get the job done. But that's theway it goes. We're going to fix that real quick."

And that's exactly what the Cougars have to do -- gain that confidence that comes with having a winning attitude. The difference in winning and losing when a team has some talent as Chesapeake does is in the head.

When you are not used to winning and your tradition is nothing but records on the negative side of the ledger, you expect to get beaten. Soonyou accept losing and can't visualize your team winning.

You getinto a close game and subconsciously wait to lose. In other words, you mentally are beat before it happens. You expect it to happen. You expect the roof to cave in.

Getting over that mental hump is what it's all about, and if Chesapeake can do that in the weeks to come, it will find itself where no one expected it to be -- in the playoffs.

The night before the Old Mill game, Kraning's Cougars won an important game at Arundel, 67-55, in the race for the final two berths.

It was a crazy game because Chesapeake won despite missing 26 foulshots. It made 29. If you're counting, the Cougars went to the line an incredible 55 times, and afterward Kraning made a few interesting remarks.

"We'll take the win, and when we win ugly, it's something new for Chesapeake, cause just winning anyway is fine by our standards," said the 6-year head coach. "We're going to learn how to do this thing right and be more than competitive."

What the coach was saying that with the slim number of wins (seven), Chesapeake has had over the last couple of years, there is really no such thing as winning ugly for them. A good team that misses 26 foul shots can say it waswinning ugly, but a team not accustomed to winning can't.

It wasa great sign for Kraning to have his guys to play as well as they did the very next night in nearly upsetting Old Mill. They displayed that competitive attitude Kraning desperately is trying to establish.

A few more wins and they might start believing, because the talentis there.

Senior center Bryan King, who is 6-foot-8, is one of the most improved players in the county, and he has a pretty good castaround him.

Kraning is high on the Van Wambeke brothers, Wes andLou, backcourters Mark Hall and Chris Rizzo and a couple of guys whohave come on recently in Sean Sesney and Justin Hall. Sesney had 17 points against Old Mill while Hall had 17 against Arundel.

But asfor steady play, that has come from King, the Van Wambekes, Hall andRizzo.

That group prompted Annapolis coach John Brady to say backon Dec. 20 after his Panthers posted a 92-64 victory over the Cougars, "People around the county had better watch out for them, because they are much improved. They're going to give some people headaches."

That they have done, but if only Kraning could make them migraineheadaches. He knows his kids will, once they learn to believe how toput an opponent away and capitalize on opportunities.

Prime examples of not capitalizing are the Arundel game with all the free-throwopportunities and a disappointing 68-62 home loss to Queen Anne's. That was the only win of the season for the Eastern Shore Lions and could come back to haunt the Cougars later.

Playoff teams win the games they are supposed to win. Queen Anne's was a "supposed to" and the Cougars blew it, at home yet.

What will make it or break it for them now in the final weeks of the regular season will be those "supposed to" wins. The way I see it, and this is not Kraning talking because we all know that coaches aren't supposed to count their eggs before they are hatched, the Cougars have six "supposed tos" left on their slate.

This Friday's trip to Glen Burnie and the following Tuesday's game at Queen Anne's are the first two that Chesapeake shouldwin, that is, if it is serious about getting to postseason play.

After playing host to Annapolis, the Cougars travel to Severna Park on Feb. 5 for a crucial game, which could be called a "supposed to" (Chesapeake took the first meeting) or certainly one of those "have tos."

A trip to South River on Feb. 8 will be a tough game because the Seahawks (8-4) are a much-improved Class 3A team led by 6-0 junior sharpshooter Albert Lee and 6-5 sophomore center Darren Hall.

It would be icing on the cake for the Cougars if they were to win at South River.

After the South River game, Chesapeake plays at Boys'Latin (5-7) and plays host to Archbishop Spalding (3-10), a pair of Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference teams they should beat. If it can't beat those two guys, the Cougars don't belong in the playoffs.

A journey to Harwood to play the Southern Bulldogs (9-3) isone I think the Cougars can pencil in as a loss. It's extremely tough to win there despite the Dawgs' Class 2A status unless you have a really strong club.

Here again, a victory over Southern would be like a win over South River -- extra gravy.

Finally, in a game that could very well decide their fate for the sixth and final playoff spot or maybe even fifth place is a home game against first-year NorthCounty. The Knights are getting better with each passing game, but it's to the Cougars' benefit to play the Knights at home.

With theway things have been going in the 4A league, I say if Chesapeake wins at least five of those six "supposed tos" it will make postseason play. Nine wins should and almost assuredly 10 will do it.

And a team that no one thought would have a shot, does. It's something new for the Chesapeake Cougars. They need only get used to it.

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