Like many things in life, it’ll happen at some point. The Arundel High School boys basketball team will make sure of it.
Sooner or later, the Wildcats will have the right performance on the right night. They’ll face North Point, parlay their dominant season into an excellent 32 minutes of basketball, defeat the Eagles, win the East region, and make the state tournament. The program’s players in general are too disciplined, too good and too hungry for it not to materialize.
It just won’t be this year.
The Wildcats’ outstanding season came to a crushing end on March 8, as Arundel traveled to Waldorf and fell to back-to-back defending region champion North Point, 89-64. Keaton Mack led the Wildcats with 16 points, while Ryan Hill notched a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Aaron Lewes-Cenales scored 10, but it wasn’t enough to top North Point’s potent attack. The Eagles’ Matt Bonds led all scorers with 26 points, while Anthony Williams had 21 and future Loyola Greyhound point guard Marquis Wright had 12, and North Point advanced to the state tournament for the third straight year.
“We didn’t execute our game plan as well as we needed to,” said Arundel Head Coach Jeff Starr. “The effort was there. I can’t ask for more of an effort. Even when we got down we came back each time. We could have folded. Usually teams get that kind of pressure and they fold. A 20-point lead turns into 40. These guys just wouldn’t let that happen.”
To be fair, nothing in Anne Arundel County can prepare a basketball team for what it faces at North Point. The Eagles’ brightly-lit gym in Waldorf has more of a college atmosphere than high school. Large enough to hold hundreds more fans than a typical county gym, the atmosphere inside North Point is loud and raucous. The seats wrap 270 degrees around the court and go 30 rows deep, giving the whole scene an arena-like feeling. A student band pounds away at drums while their classmates bounce up and down goofily, covered head-to-toe in body paint. The cheerleaders and fans bear down on the court a la Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. Picture a Friday night home game against Annapolis at Arundel High School. It’s that, except turned up to 11.
Fittingly, the Wildcats had the challenge of facing a team very similar to them in style of play. The Eagles rely heavily on their athleticism and full-court press, and from the opening whistle they began giving the Wildcats a taste of their own medicine. The full-court pressure led to turnovers and easy buckets for North Point, who jumped out to a 19-10 lead after one quarter.
The Wildcats kept hope alive in the second quarter, as a three-pointer by Mack cut the lead to five at 21-16, but that was as close as they got. North Point’s speed and swarming defense gave the Wildcats everything they could handle, and the Eagles snuffed out the Wildcats’ defensive victories by crashing the offensive glass to get easy tip-ins and putbacks.
Arundel was able to close to within 16 in the third quarter, but any momentum they had was curtailed by some questionable foul calls by the referee. Midway through the period, the official even halted the game momentarily to inexplicably confiscate a vuvuzela from an Arundel fan sitting amongst the Wildcat student section. (Nevermind the multiple rows of active noise-making equipment stockpiled by the North Point students on the other end of the gym). It was a symbolic pouring of salt in Arundel’s wounds.
Nevertheless, no one can deny the outstanding season the Wildcats had this winter, and furthermore the tremendous run they have had over the past two years. The Wildcats went 22-4 this season and have put up 46 wins over the past two seasons combined, winning two-consecutive county championships.
“I just talked to these guys about how many positives we had,” said Starr after the game. “Back-to-back county championships. The seniors have won probably more than any group has in their career [at Arundel]. This has probably been one of the most successful two-year runs at Arundel. It was a special group.”