As in its three previous games, No. 13 Mount Hebron didn't produce a masterpiece, but the Vikings yesterday got enough offense from Sean Velasquez (23 points) and Aaron Rei-White (17 points) to defeat visiting Howard, 66-58, and take another step toward capturing the Howard County title.
By scratching out its 10th straight win, Mount Hebron reduced its magic number to five to capture its first county boys basketball title since 1994, when the Vikings shared it with Atholton.
Mount Hebron (14-3 overall, 12-1 league), which has five regular-season games left, needs a combination of five victories and/or Long Reach losses to clinch. The Vikings lead the Lightning (15-2, 11-2) by one game and River Hill (14-3, 10-3) by two.
Marc Carroll (15 points, 11 rebounds) said that ever since the Vikings defeated Long Reach on Jan. 29, they've experienced a letdown.
"We have to keep it in our mind that we can lose," Carroll said. "Once we got the lead we made stupid mistakes. Howard had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and could come out and foul and not worry."
The Lions (5-11, 3-9) sent Mount Hebron to the foul line 20 times and the Vikings made 17 free throws.
"We're not playing well," said Vikings coach Mike Linsenmeyer. "But winning ugly is better than losing pretty. Howard is a very athletic team and we were lucky to get out with a win. The first game we played them [in December] was even tighter."
The ugliest part of Mount Hebron's performance was its shooting during the first three quarters. The Vikings hit just 14 of 51 shots to allow Howard to stay in the game.
It wasn't until the fourth quarter when Mount Hebron started penetrating the lane for better percentage shots, and the Vikings also forced seven turnovers by Howard, which had 22 for the game. As a result, they were 8-for-14 in the period and led by as many as 12 points.
Rei-White scored nine of his 17 points that quarter.
It helped the Vikings that one of Howard's best defensive players, Cody Hahn, fouled out with 7:04 left to play.
It also helped that Mount Hebron made seven of eight free throws that period. The free throws offset a 9-for-14 shooting performance by Howard in that final quarter.
Ron Mann, a junior guard, had 17 points and seven rebounds and playing tough defense for Howard. Teammate Delvin Hicks, also a junior, scored 22 points.