Ninth-ranked Centennial took a huge step toward its first Howard County championship since the 1978-1979 season by dismantling 11th-ranked Hammond, 46-23, at Centennial last night.
"They just killed us," said Hammond coach Joe Russo, whose team fell behind 16-0 in the first quarter. "They played good. We played terrible."
Centennial (15-5 overall, 14-2 league) and Wilde Lake (16-4, 14-2), which got a career-high 19 points from Natashka Hill in a 48-43 win at Glenelg, are tied for the county lead with two games remaining.
Centennial plays at Glenelg Tuesday and at Mount Hebron Wednesday, while Wilde Lake, the defending county champion, is at River Hill Tuesday and plays host to Oakland Mills Wednesday. Should Centennial and Wilde Lake win their remaining games, the county would have its first co-champions since Centennial and Mount Hebron finished 12-2 in the 1978-1979 season.
Centennial and Wilde Lake split this season, each team winning on the other's court.
The Eagles dominated Hammond (16-4, 13-3) from the start yesterday.
"It went downhill from the beginning," said Hammond senior Nicole Owe.
Centennial had a 6-0 lead when Kathleen O'Connor made four consecutive baskets -- two of them three-pointers -- for a 16-0 Eagles' lead six minutes into the game. Owe scored the Golden Bears' first basket with 1: 49 left in the quarter, which ended with Centennial leading 18-2. Hammond shot one of 12 from the field and committed four turnovers.
"Our defense won this game, especially in the first quarter," said O'Connor, who finished with a game-high 17 points.
Said Centennial coach Dave Greenberg about the opening quarter: "When we shoot the ball well [seven of 10 in the first quarter] we're capable of having a run like that, because our defense is so good.
"We're really playing well, especially defensively. They have really grasped the system. I'm really proud and impressed by what they're doing."
Centennial struggled offensively in the second quarter, making only two of 10 shots. Hammond cut its deficit to 20-10 on Crystal Todd's layup with 1: 55 left, but a three-point basket by Stacie Tokasz gave the Eagles a 23-10 halftime advantage.
Hammond, which has county losses against Wilde Lake, Centennial and Howard, got within seven at the start of the third quarter. A basket by Todd (six points) and two field goals by Rene Hines (six points) trimmed Centennial's lead to 23-16 with 6: 22 left.
Centennial's Meredith Price (14 points) missed a shot, but Hammond turned it over on a five-second violation. O'Connor made another three-point shot for a 10-point lead with 5: 27 left.
"That was huge," Greenberg said of O'Connor's basket.
Hammond missed the rest of its 10 third-quarter shots, and fell behind, 31-18. In fact, the Golden Bears didn't make another basket until 2: 09 remained in the game. Centennial scored the first 14 points of the fourth quarter.
"It was really frustrating," said Owe, who, along with the other Hammond starters, sat out the final 3: 30 of the game. "It's a one-time thing. We just had a brain lapse."
Owe added that Hammond's second-half comeback effort was hurt by not playing as a team.
"I think individuals took it upon themselves to get the game back," Owe said. "We weren't doing it as a team. You can't come back on your own. You need the team."
Pub Date: 2/14/97