As Jared Bradford pulled into Long Reach's parking lot before the Lightning's 59-42 win over Atholton on Friday, he couldn't believe his eyes.
"I saw all these cars, and I said to myself, 'No, this can't be for our basketball game,' " Bradford recalled. "I walked in and the stands were packed. I said, 'All right, we just got to come out and play.' "
Long Reach (12-0 overall, 8-0 Howard County) did just that, affirming itself as the county's top team in front of a sellout crowd of more than 1,000 fans. The game was sold out more than 30 minutes before tip-off, and seats were scant inside the Lightning's steamy gymnasium, creating an atmosphere unseen in the county this year.
"That was special," Long Reach Coach Al Moraz said. "We had a packed house, and we probably turned away a hundred people. It's special when two teams like that come together."
Added Atholton Coach Jim Albert: "It was a great atmosphere to play in for high school basketball. In that sense, a lot of teams would love to play in this atmosphere, but the bottom line is we weren't very good tonight and they were, and they certainly had a lot to do with that."
In truth, the excitement of the crowd far exceeded the excitement of the game. Atholton (9-1, 5-1) tried to slow the game from the start, but trailed 12-6 after one quarter and 25-10 at the half. The Raiders had as many turnovers as points for much of the game.
Bradford did much of the damage, scoring 17 points, and senior Terrell Blackwell and junior Joey Taylor took care of things in the paint, but it was junior point guard Mike Smelkinson who ran things for the Lightning, despite a season-low four points.
Smelkinson, appropriately wearing a replica of Jason Kidd's New Jersey Nets jersey after the game, had nine assists and five steals.
"I am happy with a W; that's the only stat that maters," said Smelkinson, who entered the game averaging 18 points. "It doesn't matter how much I score. We are deep, and if one person doesn't score, someone will. I could care less about the points.
"After the first half when I didn't score, I just knew it wasn't my game. I had to share the ball and maybe pass up open shots to get it to the better shots. I am getting others involved, and it feels good."
"He played a total game," Moraz said. "It was unbelievable. He usually gets 20 a game, and here he was with four. It's unbelievable. We are winning by 20, and here is a guy with four points."
Transfer of Power for Hammond When ice hockey player Kyle Chesley transferred from Mount St. Joseph to Hammond in September, the Golden Bears got something they needed. So did Chesley's twin brother, Kevin.
Hammond got a premier goal scorer. Kyle Chesley has scored 28 goals in six games and has led the Golden Bears to a 5-1 record through Friday, good for second in the county after a 9-8 upset of Howard on Jan. 6.
Kevin Chesley got the chance to play with his little brother -- by two minutes -- for the first time since the pair were teammates on a Little Caps club team two years ago.
"Being a defenseman, with him up there I always know where he is on the ice," Kevin Chesley said. "I kind of help him out, and he helps me out by making plays. He is always there for the breakaway. We didn't have any good forwards last year. Everyone did well, but he is one of the best forwards we have."
Kyle Chesley's participation has turned a .500 team short on skaters into one of the county's best. The team still often plays short-handed, with only 11 skaters and one goalie on hand at most games, but the Golden Bears challenged defending county champion Atholton during a 6-2 loss on Dec. 17. Hammond has also defeated Howard and Centennial, two teams that will likely vie for spots in the county's three-team playoffs.
Hammond won't be in the playoffs despite its record. The Golden Bears are the only team in the county with players from two schools -- eight from Hammond and three from Wilde Lake -- and play under provisional status. Provisional teams are not able to qualify for the playoffs.
"We just play for our school," Kyle Chesley said. "We both have always loved hockey, and our teammates really love hockey. Even though we are not making the playoffs, we mainly play for our teammates and just for pride."
Scorpions' Cole Regains His Footing Oakland Mills junior Tony Cole slipped as he pushed out of his starting block and had trouble keeping his footing on a new surface at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore, but he still won the 55-meter title at the 40th National Guard Scholastic Games on Saturday.
Cole's 6.4-second sprint was the highlight of the meet for three Howard County teams testing out the armory before the Maryland 2A/1A Central Region and 3A/2A West Region meets next month. The Oakland Mills boys finished seventh with 22 points, well behind winner Annapolis (64), and Glenelg was eighth with 18 points, led by junior Drew Graybeal's third-place finish in the 500.
The Long Reach and Glenelg girls finished tied for fourth with 26 points. Long Reach senior Dione Lambert was third in the 55 (7.6 seconds) and helped the Lightning's 4x200-meter relay team take first in 1:56.7. Glenelg sophomore Jessica Hibbert was third in the 1,500 (5:22.9), and the Gladiators also won the 4x800-meter relay in 10:47.5.