Annapolis Area Christian School, Severn and Indian Creek all have plans—and legitimate hopes—to bring the conference championship back to Anne Arundel County.
If Indian Creek’s 67-64, triple-overtime victory over Severn on February 1 is any indication, the fight for the championship in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference is going to be extremely closely battled—and there’s a good chance the title will come to reside in Anne Arundel County.
With playoffs beginning the week of February 8, Annapolis Area Christian School, Severn and Indian Creek all have a legitimate shot of hoisting the MIAA B plaque at UMBC on February 14. AACS (13-2 in conference play), Severn (10-6) and Indian Creek (8-8) each hold one of six playoff spots in the 10-team conference.
With the top-to-bottom strength of the conference forging a battle-tested group of teams all capable of beating each other, the playoffs could offer up some February Madness.
“I feel like, going into the playoffs with a one and done, it’s always a coin flip,” said Indian Creek coach Will Bartz, whose Eagles are playing their first season in the B Conference after back-to-back-to-back championships in the C Conference.
Bartz got a taste of that coin-flip reality in an epic bout with the Admirals in Severna Park to open February. The game could hardly have been closer: The teams were never separated by more than four points over 44 minutes of basketball, fighting to three overtimes before Malik McKinney swished a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining in the third OT to seal the victory for Indian Creek.
The Eagles’ Zion Chase hit 3-pointers in all three overtime periods and scored 18 points in the win, equaling the team-high mark scored by teammate Devin Garrett.
Severn’s LJ Owens led all scorers with 27 points, and teammate Keon Butler notched 15.
AJ Burch’s driving layup in the closing seconds of regulation time gave the Admirals a 46-44 lead, but the Eagles sent the game to overtime on a drive and score by David Campbell, who finished with 14 points. Playmaking by Severn’s Owens, Butler and Jermaine Hall was offset by that of Indian Creek’s Chase, Cambell, McKinney, Garrett and Davon Beckford. Beckford came up with a handful of critical rebounds and a big blocked shot in overtime for the Eagles, who nearly won at the end of the second overtime on an eight-foot shot by Garrett that rimmed out.
Severn almost took the victory at the end of the first overtime, but Kevin Dennin’s desperation 3-pointer from the wing hit the front rim.
It was the third straight victory over Severn for Indian Creek, which beat the Admirals for the first time in program history last season and again to start this year’s campaign in December.
“My speech in the locker room was, ‘This isn’t about scouting reports. We know them. They know us. This is about us cheering for each other and believing in each other,’ so that when things don’t go our way, the kids stuck with it and weren’t divided,” said Bartz. “I’m just proud of the kids. The kids supported each other. The referee had to warn me like five times to tell our kids on the bench to sit down. You know you’re in good shape when the referee is telling you to warn the bench. I’ll never forget this. It’s a memory. Even if they had lost, the kids had so much fun together, and as a teacher and coach, that’s all you hope to see.”
Two nights later, Beckford scored a career-high 22 points and hit the game-winning shot with 1.3 seconds remaining in a 67-65 victory over Archbishop Curley in Baltimore, moving Indian Creek to 8-8 in conference play.
Severn, still with a playoff ticket, knows the season is not lost in one long night against their Crownsville rivals, said head coach VJ Keith.
“Those two teams, they’re going to go after it,” said Keith. “It’s hard-fought every time we play them. It comes down to a possession here or a possession there. Everything matters. A turnover here, a missed rebound, a missed layup, it all adds up. Games like that, you’ve got to perform every possession, and we just didn’t tonight.
Keith concurs that the MIAA B Conference has been cutthroat this season, with a lot of strength making up the playoff field.
“Our conference is tough, and we’re not there yet,” he said. “We’ve still got work to do. It’s still wide open. Everybody’s fighting, and that’s what happens. You get to this time in the season and people are fighting and clawing to get into the playoffs.”
No team has had more cushion against that fight than the Eagles of Annapolis Area Christian School, who have topped the conference all year in search of the program’s first championship.
View a photo gallery of the Annapolis Area Christian School boys basketball team.
Leading the way for the Eagles has been the standout all-around play of swingman Justin Williams, who is averaging a team-high 22.2 points per game and garnering high praise from head coach Doug Scheidt.
“Justin Williams is the best player in the area,” said Scheidt.
Williams’ baseline drive and thunderous tomahawk dunk for two of his 16 points against Friends School of Baltimore on February 2 highlighted another conference win for AACS, but the excitement was short-lived when senior starter Nate Eberle went down with a serious leg injury. It is unclear whether the Eagles will have him back for the playoffs.
“Nate has been outstanding,” said Scheidt of Eberle, second on the team at 13.3 points per game. “He hasn’t just been a great outside shooter but an unbelievable defender for us, just does everything right.”
Point guard Ryan Rawlings has orchestrated a run-and-gun offense that routinely scores in the 80s—the score against Friends was 84-66—distinct from many of the conference’s teams, which grind to point totals in the 50s and 60s.
Not to imply that the AACS Eagles are forgoing defense. The defensive intensity is a major part of why the team is 13-1 in conference play, along with the contributions of Wayne Bristol, Ryan Rawlings, AJ Austin, Cam Williams, DJ Clark, Dominick Banks, Jarrett Heckert, Michael Dix, Christian Williams and Justin Plater.
“We have a really strong bench,” said Scheidt. “We have guys that come off the bench and fill those voids really well.”
Scheidt said there’s notable strength in the conference this year, as evidenced by the logjam in the middle of the standings and slew of close outcomes.
“There’s a lot of parity in the middle, a lot of strong teams and a lot of close games, a lot of good coaching,” said Scheidt. “The conference is a great conference. I think a lot of the teams would fare well against a lot of the teams above us in the A Conference.”
If the AACS Eagles are to take the conference crown for the first time in program history, they’ll rely on what’s powered them to such a solid season thus far.
“We’ve got a lot of cohesiveness on our team,” said Scheidt. “We’ve got a lot of guys that love each other. We’re tight, we play for each other, and the Lord has really honored us this year…We feel like we’re clicking and peaking. We’ve got a good team, we’ve got a good group. We don’t take anything for granted, because anything can happen. Whenever we start looking at ourselves and where we are, teams will catch us. So we’re going to keep sprinting forward.”