When Central senior Jamar Spruill steps on the court before each game, he always notices the younger children in attendance. They remind him of -- him.
"I remember when I was in middle school, and I'd come to the Central games and be part of the tradition," Spruill said. "When I was in sixth grade, I knew I wanted to come to Central when I went to the state championship game and saw them beat Aberdeen."
Central has not won a state title since that game against Aberdeen seven years ago, but Spruill and his teammates have a chance to change that this weekend. The Falcons (14-10) will play Southern of Baltimore County (15-8) at Comcast Center at 9 p.m.; a victory there and in Saturday's 2A final would give them the school's fifth state title.
Spruill, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound shooting guard, is one of four first-year starters in the Falcons' lineup. His play -- he's averaging 11 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game -- has helped the Falcons become the only 2A team from last year's state tournament field to make a return trip this season.
"Jamar has made key plays for us all season, and right now his defense is the best it's been all season," Central first-year coach Brian Taylor said. "His biggest strength is that he gets everyone on our team involved."
Although Central has four players averaging at least eight points per game -- led by senior shooting guard Chris Henderson's 14.7 -- Taylor said defense turned the Falcons' season around. Central entered the final three games of the regular season 8-9, but has gone 6-1 since.
The Falcons have held each of their four postseason opponents to fewer than 70 points, including an 80-68 semifinal victory over second-seeded Fairmont Heights and an 81-64 win over top-seeded Southern in the regional final.
"Our team finally learned that it can't go out there trying to outscore teams if they are going to win," Taylor said. "We have to play defense, and in the playoffs, our defense has gotten us to where we are. We just need to keep it up for two more games."
Winning two more games would help the Falcons and Spruill erase a bitter memory -- last season's 72-50 loss to Wicomico in the state final.
"I don't like getting second place in anything," Spruill said. "When I got home, I took the second-place trophy that I got and threw it in the back of closet. I haven't seen it since, and I really don't want to. All I care about is winning the big one."