Third-ranked Magruder and Churchill, the top two seeds in the Maryland 4A West Region playoffs, meet Tuesday night in the regular season finale – a game that Colonels Coach Dan Harwood would prefer to have earlier in the season.
“Stupid scheduling, I don’t know why we’re doing that,” Harwood said. “It’s not great, especially since we haven’t played them all year.”
Magruder (20-1) currently has the Washington area’s longest winning streak, having won 20 consecutive games since an opening loss to second-ranked DeMatha. The Colonels are playing with plenty of confidence. While junior guard Nick Griffin, who scored 40 points in a recent victory over Wootton, and senior forward Garland Owens get much of the spotlight, Harwood stressed that junior point guard J.J. Epps has been the team’s most complete player.
“I will be yelling and screaming at college coaches next summer to offer him,” Harwood said, noting that Epps’s shooting (61 percent from the field) and 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio are more important than his lack of height (5 feet 4). “He’s just a special player.”
Epps scored a career-high 20 points this past Friday in a 66-53 victory over neighborhood rival Sherwood before an overflow crowd as Magruder retired the No. 20 jersey of former player Spencer Datt, who was killed in a car crash in May 2011.
Harwood is pleased with his team’s ability to share the ball on offense and its execution on defense. With the experience of reaching the Maryland 4A semifinals last year, Magruder appears primed for a postseason run.
“Last year, I thought we were a year away,” Harwood said. “We’ll see what happens. We’re excited for it.”
Led by senior forward Sam Edens, who is averaging 15.2 points, Churchill (17-4) has won 11 of its past 12 games.
No. 17 C.H. Flowers earned the top seed in the Maryland 4A South Region while No. 13 Eleanor Roosevelt earned the second seed. DuVal and Wise, which struggled early in the season but hit its stride later, earned the remaining first-round byes as the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively.
In the 3A South Region, Potomac (Md.) earned the No. 2 seed, a dramatic turnaround for a school that finished 3-16 last season. Under first-year Coach Renard Johnson and standout sophomore Dion Wiley, who didn’t play last season, the Wolverines have been among the county’s biggest surprises. Friendly earned the No. 4 seed.
After finishing the season with identical 16-2 records in the Prince George’s County 3A/2A/1A and a split season series, a coin flip last week gave No. 20 Gwynn Park the top seed in the 2A South and No. 18 Largo the No. 2 seed.
No. 8 Coolidge and No. 16 Spingarn are the top seeds in the DCIAA playoffs, which begin Wednesday. The Colts, who have a pair of wins over teams in the top five this season (then-No. 2 Montrose Christian last month, and then No. 5 Riverdale Baptist on Saturday), are the top team in the DCIAA West and will face McKinley on Wednesday.
The Green Wave, the DCIAA East’s top seed, will host a much-improved Bell team on Wednesday.
On the girls’ side, No. 6 H.D. Woodson and Wilson earned the top seeds. The defending champion Warriors, who boast four seniors who have played together for four years, host Dunbar. The Tigers host Anacostia on Wednesday.
Turns out their tardiness – despite technically being early – might have been one of the best things to happen to the Titans. The two seniors were put on the second team in practice and made to earn their way back into the lineup. Immediately, the pair made an impact on practices.
“We said, ‘We’re not losing to the first team in practice,’ ” Huggins said. “And when we got our spots back on the first team, [the second team] kept that mentality. They were directing other people to push [as hard].”
The increased intensity in practice – “a lot of trash talk, everything,” Huggins said – has been a big reason T.C. Williams (16-9) appears to be hitting its stride at the right time. After losing six of eight games in January, including four consecutive losses from Jan. 10 to Jan. 16, the Titans have since won eight of the past nine, including five straight that culminated in another Virginia AAA Patriot District championship. Huggins has led the way during that span, averaging nearly 20 points per game.
Now it appears T.C. has put itself in a position to be considered among the favorites for a Northern Region title. It would be the Titans fifth in six seasons.
The Titans won’t have an easy road. After a game in the first round against Jefferson, T.C. will likely face a team many consider to be the region favorite: Westfield, which must beat Wakefield in its first-round game.
But the Titans have gained momentum and confidence at the right time.
“I believe we have toughest district in this region,” Huggins said. “So I believe we have a good shot.”
Defending Maryland 4A champ North Point (20-2) will enter the 4A East tournament as the No. 3 seed after they earned the top seed during their undefeated season last year, but its chief regional rivals remain the same.
The Eagles beat Glen Burnie in the regional final to reach their first state tournament last year, and the second-seeded Gophers (20-2) loom as a likely regional semifinal opponent this year.
On the other side of the bracket, perennial Anne Arundel County powers Arundel (21-1) and Old Mill (16-6) are the top seed and fourth seed, respectively, and North Point has faced one or both of those schools in the two regional tournaments in which the Eagles have participated since moving to 4A in 2009.
Thomas Stone (21-1) is the top seed in the 3A South region and will look to reach the state tournament for the fourth time in five years.