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Nobody knows better than Jermaine Head how much Joppatowne basketball has changed since last year's state championship.

Last year, the6-foot junior guard saw a lot of action coming off the bench. This year, he's the Mariners' main man. Last Friday, Head hit two free throws with five seconds left to boost the Mariners over Havre de Grace, 70-67.

He followed that Tuesday night by hitting both ends of a one-and-one with 26 seconds left to seal the Mariners' 50-45 win over Bel Air.

"It was the same thing all over again. I was just real confidentI could stroke 'em," said Head, who scored a game-high 20 points andhad four assists against Bel Air.

Those were the Mariners' two biggest wins of the season -- their only two in the county going into Friday night's Aberdeen game. Coach Mike Bauer said it has taken time just for the Mariners (7-8 overall, 2-5 league) to get used to playing together.

"It's hard for guys like Jermaine who played with all those guys last year," said Bauer. "With the talent we had last year,mistakes were not as noticeable. We rebounded most of our mistakes or if we turned it over, we came right down and took it away."

Because Head has more experience than his teammates, he has been the one to step up and take over where former Mariners stars Kevin Hockaday and Kilo Mack left off.

"I've had to mature a lot, because my role this year is a lot different than my role last year. Last year was mostly a given -- look for Kevin to be there or Kilo up top. This year,it's not one person you can look for. It has to be a team effort. We've got to play to gether."

Although he is a team player, Head hasbecome the one his teammates look for in the critical situations. And he responds.

Against Bel Air, Head's first big bucket, a three-pointer midway through the second quarter, pulled the Mariners to 13-9. The Bobcats had given Joppatowne fits with their match-up zone defense, running up an 11-0 lead. When the Mariners bounced back, Head scored seven of their first nine points.

After Head hit that three-pointer, the Mariners picked up their intensity on both offense and defense. They forced Bel Air to turn the ball over twice in the next minute and J. P. Lilliston popped another three-pointer to pull the Mariners to within one.

The Mariners stayed within three through the third quarter. They found more openings against the match-up zone andBill Pilkerton scored six of his 10 points on medium-range jump shots.

Head finally gave the Mariners their first lead of the game, 31-29, on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

Joppatowne ran its lead to44-35 when Trent Nicholas capped a three-point play with 3:05 left. But Bel Air wasn't finished.

The Bobcats outscored Joppatowne, 10-2, in the next two-and-a-half minutes. Paul Daniele's three-pointer and Dia Nichols' 17-footer closed the gap to 46-44.

With 32 secondsleft, Matt Sedgely hit one of two free throws to pull within one, but Nicholas grabbed the rebound off the second shot.

After Head hithis two free throws, Nichols tried to tie for Bel Air with a three-point effort that missed with 12 seconds to go.

For Joppatowne, Bauer is hoping the back-to-back wins in pressure games will be a turning point.

"The last couple seconds (against Bel Air) we made some big mistakes, but we didn't make enough to lose it. Earlier in the season we would have lost a game like that because of our inexperience. You have to win some of these games to know how to win them."

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