Archbishop Spalding's boys basketball team puts its inaugural No. 1 ranking on the line at 8 tonight, when the Cavs play host to highly touted St. Maria Goretti in their Catholic League opener.
It's the county's high school version of Maryland and Duke with a standing-room-only crowd expected at the Severn school.
Hagerstown's Goretti (14-1), a longtime Catholic League power, is ranked No. 8 in this week's Associated Press overall state basketball Top 20. At 11-2, Spalding is 10th.
The visiting Gaels are coached by Cokey Robertson, who is the second winningest active boys coach in Maryland with a record of 597-335 (.640) in his 31st season. Only DeMatha's Morgan Wootten (1,167-172, .871), who is also the national leader in this, his 43rd season, has more wins.
Robertson spent time at the junior college level and at Westminster and Thomas Johnson high schools before moving to Goretti. He has won 519 of his games with the Gaels, including two close ones over Spalding last season.
"Definitely, overall it's one of our better teams," said Robertson, who coached former N.C. State star Rodney Monroe (1985-87), a member of the Catholic League's 25th anniversary team in 1996. Monroe played a year in the NBA with Atlanta.
"This team shoots well from the three-point range and is experienced," said Robertson.
He starts four quality seniors -- point guard Lee Green, No. 2 guard Anthony Sowers, 6-foot-4 wing Jamie Rice, and 6-5 post Brad Runkles, and 6-4 sophomore forward Rodney Gibson.
Rice and Runkles were second-team All-Catholic League last season. Gibson was the key man on last winter's undefeated JV.
"They not only shoot well, but they're well coached and change defenses more than any team in the league," said Spalding's third-year coach, Tony Martin, who has seen Goretti play once this season. "They've proven they can play with anybody, so we're opening our league with a barn burner."
Goretti's only loss was by 60-56 to the Washington area's top-ranked team, Good Counsel, which is No. 8 in USA Today. Two weeks ago, the Gaels took a 67-61 decision over Gonzaga (13-2), No. 3 in Washington.
Gonzaga is the only team to defeat DeMatha (12-1), USA Today's former top-ranked team, which is now No. 3 because of that loss.
Coming off its runner-up showing in the King Cotton Classic in Pine Bluff, Ark., Spalding began this week with a 94-58 romp over Antioch Christian (13-5). Seven-foot senior Derrick Goode and junior swingman Tremaine Robinson combined for 30 points.
Robinson and junior point guard Derrick Snowden were All-Tournament in Pine Bluff, and Goode probably should have been, Martin said. They are just three of what is a 15-player deep squad.
Spalding's two losses have come to USA Today's No. 7 White County (14-0), of Sparta, Tenn., by 64-61 in the King Cotton final and by 67-63 to Washington's No. 8 Bishop McNamara (12-0) in the Cavs' second game of the season.
"They had an excellent, young team last year that is older, and they have a lot of depth," said Robertson. "We're expecting a great game."
Martin said his junior-dominated Cavaliers are ready for tonight's challenge.
The game also commences a grind of eight consecutive Catholic League games before a Feb. 3 meeting with No. 12 McDonogh (8-4), a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference team that plays like an A squad.
"We're ready, but it's heck of a way to open the season," said Martin, adding that he and the school have received a lot of phone calls since taking over the top perch in The Sun's Top 20 on Tuesday.
"I feel we're peaking, but I told the kids the league is a little different with the intensity that is always there."
Spalding and Goretti's JV teams play at 6: 15 p.m., followed by the main event, so fans should show up early, because the Cavs' gym is not very big and will fill up fast.
A couple other top games on tonight's slate: Arundel's boys (6-3) visit No. 17 Broadneck (5-4) at 7: 15 p.m.; No. 2 St. Mary's girls (12-0) play host to No. 14 St. Frances (7-5) at 3: 45 p.m.
The latter game starts a big weekend for coach Harry Dobson's Saints. Guards Maria Smear and Emily Lipton are closing in on milestones. Smear is 20 points from a career 1,000, and Lipton, with nearly 1,400 points, is approaching the school career mark of 1,434 set in 1995 by Annetta Davis, an All-County star.
The Saints visit No. 4 Roland Park (9-3) at 2 p.m. tomorrow and play host to top-ranked McDonogh (12-0) at 3: 45 p.m. Monday.
Meade boys coach Butch Young scouted No. 16 Old Mill (8-1) at Glen Burnie (5-4) Tuesday and came away impressed with Paul Bunting's Patriots. The No. 13 Mustangs (8-1) visit Old Mill on Tuesday. "Old Mill has everybody back. They're pretty darned good, and we're expecting a great game," said Young.
Linthicum's Art St. Martin, highly successful as a girls basketball coach at Brooklyn Park and Catonsville Community College, is off to a 4-3 start with Howard High in his try at coaching boys.
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Pub Date: 1/08/99