In all likelihood, last night's game at Fort Meade was a dress rehearsal as No. 3-ranked Annapolis won the Anne Arundel County championship, 73-66, over No. 5 Meade.
The win gave the Panthers their record 16th county championship in coach John Brady's 22 seasons. But more important games are to be played.
Annapolis (22-1) hosts Severna Park (10-12), a team it has blown out twice this season, in the only first-round game in the Class 4A East region playoffs tomorrow night.
An Annapolis victory will mean the Panthers again play Meade (21-2), a team they have beaten twice this season, in a quarterfinal game Monday.
Meade coach Butch Young hopes to return last season's favor, when his Mustangs knocked off Annapolis twice, only to lose 64-62 at the Panther Den in a Class 4A East semifinal.
"I hope that's the way it turns out," laughed Young in addressing the scenario. "You can't be upset about being a little bit outplayed by a more experienced team. Congratulations to them."
Brady was happy for his players but considers tomorrow night much more important.
"Obviously, it's better to win than lose, but it's the not the one we need," said Brady, whose team placed four players in double digits. "We've got to refocus on Severna Park for Friday, and hopefully, we'll give Meade another chance at us. The world would not have ended if we had lost tonight."
The Panthers last won the county title in 1994 under the old format of best record through the season and won nine in a row from 1984-1992. A county title game was implemented four years ago.
With 6-foot-5 junior swingman Marcus Johnson scoring a game-high 22 points to go with six rebounds, a blocked shot, three assists and three steals, the Panthers ended the Mustangs' 16-game winning streak and extended their own to eight.
"It was an even game, and in a game like that you have to make the plays," said Brady. "You're talking about little difference in the two teams. It wasn't like we dominated the game."
Johnson scored 14 of his points in the first half to enable the Panthers to overcome a nine-point second period by Meade's Eric Brown (12 points) and take a 36-33 lead to the break.
After a 17-17 third quarter that ended on the third of four three-pointers by Panthers sophomore Marcus Neal (16 points, eight boards, three assists, two steals), Annapolis still had a three-point lead at 53-50.
Jeff Charles, who paced Meade with 20 points and nine rebounds, scored six of his points in the third.
A tap-in by Travis Foster (18 points, game-high 12 boards) and his lay-in after a trey by Johnson ignited a 7-0 run by the Panthers to open the final eight minutes.
Thomas Hawkins (12 points, 5 rebounds) was perfect on six attempts in three trips to the line in the final 31 seconds to close out the scoring.
Pub Date: 2/25/99