You know you have arrived and belong among the elite when you can bounce back from a tough loss and defeat a good team in yet another pressure-cooker.
That's what the South River boys hoops team did lastweek in running its record to 13-2. The Seahawks have more than proven they are for real.
The Hawks dropped an 84-81 heart-breaker Tuesday at Annapolis (12-1), with Albert Lee's desperation bomb from just over half-court falling a tad short at the buzzer. It was almost another routine South River finish. It has won three games in overtime this season with plays like that.
A dejected bunch afterward, the Hawks sulked in the locker room, on the way to the bus and on the longest 15-minute ride home to Edgewater they've ever had. By Friday they had put the disappointment behind them and were ready for business.
Up against another Class 4A power in Severna Park (10-4), the Seahawks did what they had to do in posting an 88-84 home victory. Lee poured in 36 points. He had scored 18 in the loss at Annapolis.
South River had a 12-game winning streak snapped at Annapolis, but kept another streak alive.The Seahawks lost to the Panthers for a 10th consecutive time in their 14-year history. They never have beaten Annapolis, but came so close Tuesday night and may have gotten that first one had it not been for Rob Wooster's 34 points for the Panthers.
Teams that are not legitimate contenders would have packed their bags and headed south fora few games, but South River is a legitimate Class 3A contender. Sure, it would have loved a win over its South County neighbor, but after the brief mourning period, it realized that it would only have beenicing on the cake.
Having their cake and eating it, too, would bemaking the Class 3A Final Four at Cole Field House for the first time in school history. The icing on that one would be winning the wholething.
With what appears to be the best team in the 14 years of the program, South River has a legitimate shot. Not many 3A teams in the state have three players the caliber of Lee, Edmund Hicks and Darren Hall.
"Those three kids could play anywhere in the county," said Kenny Dunn, the only head basketball coach the Seahawks have ever had.
And this is more than a three-man team. The cast around that trio includes sharpshooters Jon Bolster, a senior who hit three treys against Annapolis, and freshman Corey Davis.
Big guys Fred Goodson(6-foot-7) and Jason Fullmer (6-5) perform their duties on the boards and defensively very well to make it a winning blend.
"They've got three very good players, three solid players who can score and give them a strong nucleus," said Annapolis coach John Brady.
"But the other guys do a real good job, too. They do what you've got to do to be a good team. They've got guys who come in and play roles off thebench. They play hard and they play together."
They've been doingthose things necessary for a successful season the last couple of summers.
Assistant coach Jack Jordan started a summer team a few years ago playing in the rugged Annapolis City Recreation Department Outdoor League at Truxtun Park. While going 11-12 the last two high school seasons, the Seahawks have matured. The dividends of high school athletes playing summer hoops against accomplished men is paying dividends this season.
Lee, Hicks and Hall have played in the league the last couple of years going one-on-one against some of the greatest to ever grace county courts, not to mention a handful of current Division I college players. They have lifted their individual games to a higher level.
"Playing at Truxtun has made them tougher and definitely improved their skills," said Jordan.
"We try to win those games at Truxtun, but the winning is not as important as skill development and becoming better players by playing against tougher competition."
Jordan has accomplished that, not to mention the exposure the players get in front of college scouts and coaches who frequent the games.
The summer experience is immeasurable in terms of what it means to the high school experience.
In losing nine straight games toAnnapolis before Tuesday night, South River had been wiped out by the county team that sets the standards, by 56 and 49 points in the twoprevious outings, the last one an embarrassing 119-63 in December 1989.
South River, with only four winning seasons in Dunn's first 13years and an overall career mark of 117-170, never had been a threatto Annapolis until Tuesday night. It says something for the summer effort to think they are only a bucket or two away from the team that's been on top for 15 years.
What is also crucial in South River rising up to join the county elite is that Jordan is not one of those out there seeking to be given all the credit. Dunn is fortunate to have such a devoted and loyal coach who has contributed so much to the team without going around patting himself on the back.
The best years at South River in boys hoops came in the inaugural campaign of 1978-1979 and in 1982-1983. The Hawks were 16-6 that first season, when the likes of the Carter brothers, Kevin and Brett, played. The Hawks were 16-7 in 1982-1983, with such All-County performers as Bobby Kopf, R.T. Yancey and Danny Baldwin.
South River also had winning seasons in 1980-1981 (11-10) and 1984-1985 (12-11).
To beg the obvious, is this current team the best team in South River history?
"Record-wise, so far, yes. And talent-wise, as I said, we have three kids who could play on any team, but that's a hard thing to say. I don't want to say too much," said Dunn.
His additional comments hint thisIS the best team in Seahawk history. How could anyone argue at this stage of the game?
"The guys that used to play for me are now realbig and almost as big as I am, and I'm afraid to say who's better 'cause they might put me in a trash can or something," Dunn said.
"You know, after all that aggravation I gave 'em when they played for me, I don't want to get them angry with me. But these kids don't believe they can lose."
But for losses at Leonardtown in St. Mary's County by 49-48, on an official's controversial call in the Dec. 6 season-opener, and the three-point loss to Annapolis, the Hawks could be unbeaten.
They since have avenged the loss to Leonardtown by 15 points. In a stretch of about 10 days, the Hawks won three games in overtime.
"You can't fault this team's effort and intensity, and usually we make that shot," said Dunn, referring to Lee's desperation bombat the buzzer in the Cap City Tuesday night.
"When it went off, Ithought, here we go again, going to OT, but it just fell a little short."
It's not likely their season will fall short, because this team seems destined for Cole Field House. With that victory over Severna Park Friday night, South River appears to be over the toughest part of its schedule. The team could start the 3A playoffs with a 20-2 mark.
A visit to Broadneck remains on Feb. 11, but the Bruins (8-6)are down this year. And the other foes are not about to lay down andgive it up. But by rights, the Hawks should win them all.
Unlike any other team in South River history, this team knows how to win and, more importantly, expects to win. It's a 4A team classified 3A. Bigthings are ahead, Seahawk fans.