Around the SMAC

Westlake boys basketball coach Jimmy Ball said next year he may try to cram a few extra games into what has become his favorite month: January. The Wolverines were 1-6 after losing to Forestville on Dec. 29; they have posted six straight wins since, including a victory over previously undefeated Great Mills. A win Friday over visiting La Plata would give Westlake an unblemished record in January for the second consecutive season.

"Ever since the Christmas break, we've just been on a roll," Ball said. "We still have a long way to go, but I can tell you I have that same feeling about this team as I did last year when we were on that streak."

Last season, Westlake won 18 straight on the way to the SMAC title. This season, success may rest on the Wolverines' young back court--freshman Denzel Satterwhite and sophomores Deon Briscoe and C.J. Jones--all of whom are first-year starters.

"I see all three of them coming into their own more and more every game," Ball said. "We made the decision over Christmas that we were going to go with the young guys, and they were going to have to make us or break us. . . . I can already imagine what the next few years will be like with this group."

McDonough's Lufrui Injured

McDonough's girls have lost four consecutive games and have suffered two key injuries. Center Lori Ashton, who is averaging a team-high 13.4 points per game for the Rams, has missed two games with the flu but is expected to return this week. Starting point guard Julia Lufrui, whom Coach Brian Grainger calls the Rams' floor leader, fractured her left ankle Jan. 16 and most likely will be out for the remainder of the season.

Lufrui, a junior, is an All-Met soccer player who was injured while playing with an outdoor soccer club team. Grainger said Lufrui's ankle will be in a cast for four weeks, and doctors project at least two more weeks of rehabilitation.

Great Mills Tied for Second in SMAC

After cruising to an 8-1 record to start the season, Great Mills' boys basketball team has lost two of its last four games to fall to 10-3 overall, 5-2 in the SMAC. Great Mills lost at Westlake on Jan. 14 and then slipped at home, 61-59, to Patuxent on Jan. 19.

The losses move Northern and Westlake into a tie for first place in the conference; Great Mills is now tied with Calvert for second place.

Great Mills built an early lead in the first half against Patuxent but lost focus in the second half. Not only did the Hornets commit uncharacteristic turnovers in the final 16 minutes, but they were also outrebounded by the smaller Patuxent team.

"After the loss to Patuxent, which was devastating to us, I thought we came back really well," said Hornets Coach Jake Heibel of his team's 76-42 win over McDonough on Friday. "We played a full 32 minutes of basketball in that game, which was really encouraging."

Braves' Ritchey a Calming Presence

Chopticon girls basketball coach Tony Lisanti knew just where to turn when his players began to get flustered during a too-close-for-comfort game against Calvert on Friday. Lisanti watched the Cavaliers cut the Braves' lead to 41-38 with just more than two minutes left in the game, so he reluctantly turned to senior forward Jessica Ritchey, who had not played in three games because of a sprained right ankle.

Ritchey, who is averaging a team-high 16 points per game, did not score, but her presence was enough to calm her teammates. Chopticon held Calvert scoreless the remainder of the game to claim its fifth straight victory, 45-38.

"She calmed us almost instantly," Lisanti said. "It was the best one minute of basketball I ever saw."

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Boys

Great Mills at Calvert

Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Undefeated and atop the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference less than two weeks ago, Great Mills and Calvert both have lost two league games since. That makes Friday's game critical for both teams if they hope to stay in the race for the SMAC title. Calvert has the high-flying duo of guards Sam Pumphrey and Treaven Wills; Great Mills counters with the inside-outside game of sharpshooter Jermaine Saunders and big man Alan Hoyt.

Girls

Northern at Chopticon

Friday, 6:30 p.m.

Undefeated at 7-0 in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference, two-time league champion Northern is on track for a three-peat. Chopticon hopes to derail the Patriots and hand them their first conference loss in three years. The Braves have three players averaging 10 or more points: forward Jessica Ritchey, who is expected to return from a sprained ankle, and guards Tia Briscoe and Shonta Countiss. Northern is led by forwards Brianne Gray and Tolanda Smith.

RESULTS

Boys

* Jan. 19

Chopticon 44, La Plata 42

Leonardtown 55, McDonough 42

Northern 56, Thomas Stone 45

Patuxent 61, Great Mills 58

Westlake 64, Lackey 41

* Jan. 21

Chopticon 52, Calvert 50

Great Mills 76, McDonough 42

Northern 57, La Plata 51

Patuxent 83, Lackey 49

Thomas Stone 45, Leonardtown 37

Westlake 75, St. Mary's Ryken 59

Girls

* Jan. 19

Calvert 42, St. Mary's Ryken 31

Chopticon 56, La Plata 43

Great Mills 40, Patuxent 24

Leonardtown 43, McDonough 38

Northern 51, Thomas Stone 48

Westlake 58, Lackey 24

* Jan. 21

Chopticon 45, Calvert 38

Great Mills 48, McDonough 35

Northern 46, La Plata 34

Patuxent 42, Lackey 23

Thomas Stone 58, Leonardtown 44

Westlake 58, St. Mary's Ryken 54

TOP PERFORMERS

Boys

G Eric Gross, Patuxent

Patuxent has won three games in a row, including a big 61-59 win over Great Mills on Wednesday, and Gross is a big part of the reason. The senior guard controlled the tempo against the Hornets, rallying his team from a large halftime deficit. On Friday at Lackey, he scored a season-high 27 points and also grabbed 17 rebounds.

Girls

F Brianne Gray, Northern

Gray recorded the first back-to-back triple doubles in Patriots' history this week, leading her team to conference wins over Thomas Stone and La Plata. Gray had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 11 blocks against the Cougars on Wednesday and added 11 points, 10 blocks and 10 rebounds against the Warriors on Friday.

SCORING LEADERS

* Boys

Player

School

Gms.

Pts.

Avg.

Randy Starks

Westlake

12

248

20.6

Alan Hoyt

Great Mills

13

226

17.4

Joe Saunders

St. Mary's Ryken

10

160

16.0

Harshod Spells

Thomas Stone

10

149

14.9

Jermaine Saunders

Great Mills

13

183

14.0

* Girls

Player

School

Gms.

Pts.

Avg.

Jewel Clark

Thomas Stone

13

255

19.6

Necka Lancaster

La Plata

12

221

18.4

Jessica Ritchey

Chopticon

8

128

16.0

Lori Ashton

McDonough

11

148

13.4

Meredith Bell

Westlake

11

142

12.9

CAPTION: Patuxent's Chris Graham, right, defends Great Mills' Jermaine Saunders during a game last week.