Baltimore area makes case as a state force to be reckoned with


Is Baltimore the best area of the 1990s when it comes to basketball and wrestling in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association?

Read on, and judge for yourself from the results of last weekend's boys and girls basketball state tournaments, and the state wrestling championships the week before.

There are 10 classifications between the sports; two for wrestling (1A-2A, 3A-4A) and eight for boys and girls basketball (1A, 2A, 3A, 4A). Baltimore City/County area teams won half the titles.

In wrestling, Guy Pritzker's Owings Mills squad dethroned favored Damascus for his third 1A-2A crown since winning two straight in 1991 and 1992. Old Mill, of Anne Arundel County, dominates the 3A-4A side, having won six of the last seven crowns.

And of the five boys and girls teams involved in basketball, four won state crowns, with top-ranked Western's girls taking their second straight 4A title.

Two years ago, Western's girls -- 51-33 winners over No. 3 Arundel last Saturday -- were taunted by the crowd at Catonsville Community College as the Doves lost, 59-35, to Old Mill in the Class 4A state championship game.

The core of that Western team was sophomores, however, and they have more than atoned for that loss.

"Everyone shouted that we were overrated, but [Old Mill] was well-coached and well-disciplined," said Western senior All-American Chanel Wright, who signed in November to attend North Carolina. "I didn't know what to expect because I was used to city basketball. It was the first year city schools could participate and it was a new experience for all of us."

Western, ranked ninth nationally by USA Today, went 26-0 this season to extend its unbeaten streak to 33.

The Doves have gone 49-2 the past two seasons and 74-3 the past three. Their success, as always, has been a source of pride for the city.

"We have let people know that city teams can play," Wright said. "It's given the city more respect."

Three of the four boys teams played for state titles, with Dunbar (2A) winning its third, Lake Clifton keeping the 4A title in Baltimore for the third straight year, and Randallstown (3A) becoming the third Baltimore County program to win since 1963.

The fourth boys team, Milford Mill, lost the 1A title game by four points to Forestville of Prince George's County.

That's nearly a repeat of 1993-94 when Dunbar (2A), Milford Mill (1A) and Southern-Balto. (4A) -- a repeat champion -- won state titles. A fourth team, Douglass, lost the 3A title game by two points to DuVal of Prince George's County.

Since 1990, Baltimore City and County teams have won 10 state championships in boys basketball; Prince George's County has nine titles in that same period, and has won at least one state title for the last 15 years.

City boys teams have had a team ranked in the USA Today's Super 25 the last five seasons, won six state championships and have a 42-6 record in the state tournament since joining the MPSSAA in 1992.

"The kids in Baltimore are quite sound fundamentally and have a good theoretical knowledge of the game," said Southern-Balto. coach Meredith Smith. "I think also that the teams have been well-coached."

Baltimore County, once considered inferior in basketball, has earned respect statewide.

"It's been our ultimate goal to have a quality athletic program in Baltimore County, and basketball's a major part of that," said MPSSAA president Ron Belinko, also county coordinator of athletics. "Our better kids are playing in the inner city summer leagues, which, consequently, has helped our programs."

Since Milford Mill won the state 1A crown in 1988, Baltimore County has won four times. Only Prince George's County (12) and Baltimore City (six) have won more since then.

"Inner city, basketball will always be stronger," said Randallstown's first-year coach Kim Rivers. "But if you look at the Randallstown, Milford Mill and Woodlawn areas, which is just outside of the city, the potential of growth is there."

The same can be said of Baltimore County wrestling.

Owings Mills, on the 1A-2A side, and Randallstown (3A-4A) were runners-up in 1993, the same year the county had a single-season record eight individual state champs -- a mark broken by Anne Arundel (nine) this year.

"We've been noted to have quality wrestling in Baltimore County," Belinko said. "And with Guy Pritzker's junior league involvement, he's coach many of those champions throughout the years."

Pritzker's Owings Mills squad boasted two state champs this year in two-time All-Metro Steve Kessler (140), who is 72-0 over two seasons, and Josh Ellin (125).

"Very few kids come in without experience and become state champs, but the recreation programs in Baltimore County are probably stronger than they've ever been," said Pritzker.

"Some kids go to private schools, but there are a lot of good kids from those programs in the county and the city."

Keir Hicks (145) of Southwestern became a regional champ in the city's first year. There was also a state runner-up and three fourth-place finishes.

Last year, the city produced six regional champs, three state runners-up, two third-place finishers and two fourth-place winners.

Of the three seasons, however, this one was a down year as only Garfield Thompson (112) and Millard West (119) -- both of Mervo -- and Lloyd Cox (140) of Lake Clifton won 3A-4A regional crowns, and Dunbar's Bruce Pendles (125), on the 1A-2A side, won his second regional crown.

Only three wrestlers placed in the states this year, with Pendles a runner-up for the second straight year, Cox again in fourth place, and Tony Bridges (Poly, 103) in fourth.

The good news is that Thompson, a sophomore, and West, a junior, will return for Mervo, and they're motivated to surpass the Mustangs' McAnthony Thompson, who in his first state appearance in 1994 placed third.

"The kids are really excited about the possibility of being a part of the city's history," said Mervo coach Dwight Warren. "Just talking with the other coaches, we feel that the city is a year or two away from bringing in our first state champion. We'll keep banging away until we get one."

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