Edgewood High School boys basketball coach Bob Slagle could not have written a better five-year plan.
Slagle and Edgewood are winding up their fifth season together, and the Rams are entering areas they haven't seen in more than a decade.
Their first Harford County championship since 1977 is at their fingertips. Visions of the first state title since 1975 have begun to dance in their heads. And with each passing victory, the Rams (17-1) solidify their standing as one of the top teams in school history.
Take Friday night's 54-47 victory at league rival Joppatowne. Edgewood, playing for the third straight game without leading scorer Steve Lewis, found itself behind at halftime for the first time this season. But the Rams, down by 13 points midway through the third quarter, staged a 19-6, fourth-period run to beat the defending county-champion Mariners and run their county record to 10-0.
The victory gave Edgewood a two-game lead over second-place Aberdeen with four games left. It also marked another corner turned during the program's turnaround under Slagle.
"It's got to be one of the bigger games we've won in my five years here, if not the biggest," said Slagle. "It's the kind of game we would have lost last year."
Edgewood has fixed that problem. Since losing their only game, against Meade two months ago after beginning the season with five wins, the Rams have won 12 consecutive games.
Edgewood has surged to the head of the class in Harford County with a versatile, mature group of players who have dominated most of their opponents by averaging 75.7 points a game while giving up just 56.3. Along the way, the Rams have scored more than 90 four times. They hit 107 last month against Fallston.
It's hard to tell who the team's leader is. Lewis, a 6-foot-3 senior forward, came into the season as the most notable player, having led Edgewood in scoring as a junior. True to form, he was the Rams' top scorer (18.2) before a lower-back strain forced him out of the lineup two weeks ago. He is out indefinitely.
But in Lewis' absence, the Rams have shown their depth and resourcefulness. In their first game without him, the Rams beat rival Aberdeen for the second time. Then, after trouncing North Harford, Edgewood kept its composure against Joppatowne. The Class 2A Rams remain the top seed in Region IV.
"There was a tendency early on to label us as a one-man team [Lewis], which was a fallacy from the start," Slagle said.
Beginning with sophomore point guard Maurice Boone, the Rams are loaded. After a fine freshman season, Boone (14.6 points a game, 5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.2 steals) has become "the best overall player in the county," Slagle said. Then there's 5-11, 205-pound senior forward Damon Bomar (16.3, 11 rebounds, 3.3 steals)
From there, seniors Brian Johnson and John Hobbs have combined for 15 points and five rebounds a game at one guard position. Since replacing Lewis, Hobbs has averaged 12 points. And 6-3 junior Lawrence Worthington (6.3 points and 7.4 rebounds) has given the Rams added strength up front.
"We can put points on the board quickly and look good doing it, and we can play very good defense," said Slagle. "When the pressure has been on, we've responded well. We're still a very good team without Steve."
Edgewood, which slipped into mediocrity after a great run in the mid-1970s that included county titles in 1975 and 1977 and a state crown in 1975, has recovered under Slagle. A 47-year-old social studies teacher, Slagle coached the junior varsity for 10 years at Aberdeen before taking the Edgewood job.