Hammond has spent the past two months frustrating its Howard County competition with a nasty combination of height, quickness and depth.
Last night in the Class 2A, Region II quarterfinals, the third-seeded Bears brought those weapons to bear on visiting, sixth-seeded Patapsco, and the result was a 77-43 victory that showed why Hammond feels it has a legitimate shot at its first state championship in 10 seasons.
The Bears (14-8), who gained a share of the county title last week with Centennial -- Hammond's first county championship in 10 seasons -- won their ninth game in 10 outings, and again looked like a team that might be peaking at an opportune time.
Hammond also was coming off a regular-season-ending loss to Howard, a defeat that deprived the Bears of the county title outright.
The Bears earned a Region II semifinal berth tomorrow (7 p.m.) at second-seeded Loch Raven.
"It [the loss] was probably the best thing that happened to us," Hammond coach Jack Burke said. "It [winning] started to feel easy. The kids forgot that they got here with hard work."
The Bears didn't forget last night. Sparked by the swarming, pressure defense that bothered its league opponents all season, VTC Hammond decided the issue early.
The Bears forced 10 first-quarter turnovers and scored 21 unanswered points to take a 25-9 lead against the overmatched Patriots(8-12).
Despite a shooting slump and sloppy defense in the second quarter, Hammond took a 35-20 lead into intermission. The Bears quickly extended their lead to 20 points in the third period and never allowed Patapsco to get any closer.
"Quickness-wise, they [Patriots] couldn't match up with us," Burke said. "We scouted them three times. Our kids are probably one of the best-prepared teams around."
Despite shooting 31-for-72 (43 percent) from the floor, the Bears compensated by forcing 28 turnovers and making 20 steals.
Hammond's backcourt led the way. Kris Jefferson, who has sparked Hammond off the bench for two months, fulfilled that role again. He had 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Mike Matthews added 13 points and eight rebounds.