Before he was hired as the Bel Air boys basketball coach two years ago, Chris Harney was given a crash course in the program's history.
"I was told that Bel Air basically had no basketball tradition," said Harney, who played at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland. "I knew it was going to be an uphill battle."
There are still nights like Tuesday in which the Bobcats looked brilliant for stretches, but showed their youth - the team starts two sophomores and three juniors - for others.
The result was a 68-66 overtime loss to host Havre de Grace in a game Bel Air badly needed.
"We're really young, but as maturity comes, we'll get some of these close games," said junior forward T.J. Jordan, the team's leader in points, rebounds, blocks and steals.
The Bobcats (11-5 overall, 6-5 county) have made huge strides in Harney's second year, and with only one senior on the roster, the future looks promising.
"We were 8-16 last year, but I made a commitment to the younger guys," Harney said. "We started an all-freshmen backcourt, but we're starting to see it pay off."
Harney's first order of business was identifying what prevented the Bobcats from winning in the past.
He found that once the team's season ended in late February or early March, most players didn't play together again until tryouts in the winter. So, he helped his team get into fall and spring leagues and encouraged players to attend camps over the summer.
Harney has also installed an up-tempo style that enables the Bobcats to better compete with quicker teams.
"We play harder and with a lot more heart," said Derrick Larkins, the team's lone senior. "We were timid, but this year we don't back down."
Brown gets clutch
Havre de Grace beat Bel Air, 68-66, in overtime Tuesday thanks to an unlikely hero, sophomore Kashif Brown, who was just called up from the JV team four games ago.
With the Bobcats leading by three, the referee sent Brown to the line for three free throws after he was stripped of the ball right before the buzzer. Brown swished all three and then scored the first basket of overtime on a short jumper.
"If anyone I want, it's him because he has no fear," said Warriors coach John Brooks. "We could have the [Los Angeles] Lakers out here and he would still play the same."
No more unbeatens
There are no more unbeaten teams left in the boys basketball league. Second-place Joppatowne (12-2, 8-2) knocked off county-leader Aberdeen, 67-58, on Friday behind 21 points from Brian Head. The Eagles fell to 11-4, 9-1.
Harford Tech's hot hand
Alison Oates joined the Harford Tech girls basketball program four years ago, for her first year of organized basketball. Now a senior, the guard has proven to be a quick study.
Oates averages 20 points, eight steals and three assists a game. In her past three outings - all Cobras wins - Oates is averaging 23 points.
"She worked hard her first two years and now, it's all come together for her," said Cobras coach Tammy Webber.