By JAMES FLEET
HAGERSTOWN, MD - This past weekend’s Mid-Atlantic Invitational Tournament was very entertaining as three programs with new coaches started their new eras. The start of the weekend featured coach Patrick Behan and his St. Mary’s Ryken team out of the WCAC played veteran coach Bruce Kelley’s Bullis Bulldogs, representing the IAC.
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In the end, the Knights pulled away, led by seniors Juwan Smith, Donte Etheridge and Reginald Parker, with long-range shooting coming from Penn State-bound Deividas Zemgulis. SMR had more in the tank and was able to shut the door on the Bulldogs, but not without a fight late in the fourth quarter as Bullis point guard Jamal Wright was able to set up the likes of juniors Mickey Bell and Noah Gear to finish shots and they closed the gap to two points. However, Zemgulis hit a shot along with Parker to stop the run. Building the lead back to 10 points, SMR was able to close the game in strong fashion.
The next contest matched two Independent Private School League foes, as St. John’s Catholic Prep and new coach Lloyd Hall took on the MAIT host Gaels of St. Maria Goretti and new coach Matt MIller. Hall replaces Athletic Director Silas Chung, and Miller takes over for Amrit Rayfield, who left due to personal reason after six years.
This contest was competitive early but as soon as SJCP’s Hall went to his bench with 2016 guard Elijah Boyd picking up three first-half fouls, he needed help from a young bench. Coach Miller noticed the weakness, and in turn increased the pace of the game, using his bench depth and increasing the intensity on defense for easy buckets.
Goretti saw that it was very strong at the guard position lead by the duo of 2016 Donte Doleman and 2017 Elijah Clarence, making shot selection very difficult for SJCP Senior Guard Oshea Gairey. Gairey not only found his spacing difficult at times he too was adjusting to a new team as this being the first game of the year for SJCP. The major strength of the Goretti Team is the bench and 2017 Kevin Bell is one of those players that make the difference as he compliments both Doleman and Clarence.
The third place game between Bullis and SJCP was another competitive game early, but again the depth of Bullis allowed them to sustain longer runs. Coach Hall went with a younger starting lineup for the first quarter, allowing his starters to stay out of foul trouble without falling too far behind in the count. When he put the starters in the game they were 10 points in the hole and worked to pull within two by the end of the first half. Senior PG Terrence Campbell was able to create more opportunities for senior Oshea Gairey, who finished with 18 points and was named to the All Tournament team. Eiljah Boyd stayed out of foul trouble long enough to contribute, but as he increased his intensity, his foul number grew with it. He did foul out midway through the fourth quarter as Bullis pulled away, led by Bell's seven 3-pointers (he led all scorers with 21 points). Every time SCJP would make a run, Tangelo or Vado Morse (15 points) would keep them at bay with 3-point knockdown after knockdown, and 2017 wing Chyree Walker controlled the air space above the rim. SJCP should shock a few teams in the MIAA-B, as some will underestimate the heart of the seniors on this team.
The Highlight game of the weekend pitted St. Mary’s Ryken against St. Maria Goretti in the MAIT Championship game. This game had what you would expect out of a good, well-coached private school battle, as each team had D1/D2 prospects at multiple positions.
In the first quarter both teams spent time trying to figure the other team out and the score reflected that, as Goretti led 13-6 after one. The second quarter painted a different picture, as Goretti's guards and wings extended the defense, led by Elijah Clarence, 2016 wing Ameka Akaya and 2015 forward Toby Christensen. Coach Miller called a great defensive game, never staying in one defense and constantly mixing it up to change the pace of the game.
After finding themselves down by 10 points midway through the second quarter, SMR called a timeout and changed defenses, giving the speed of Goretti nowhere to run and forcing them into a half court game. 2015 Donte Etheridge assumed the PG role with his length, sliding 2015 Reginald Parker over to the 2 and SMR was able to go on a run to cut the Goretti lead to 19-17 at halftime.
SMR came out strong in the second hal,f making a run and taking over the lead as seniors Smith, Etheridge and Parker pushed the Goretti team. As the pace of the game slowed down they were able to force Goretti into unwarrented turnovers on the defensive end, along with turning those into points on the offensive side of the ball. They closed the third with an 8-point lead after holding Goretti to one third-quarter bucket and a foul shot.
In his team's first true test, Coach Miller regrouped and changed the defense to increase pressure on the SMR guards and create a much more faster-paced game which seemed to favor Goretti and the move worked. 2016 Ameka Akaya was that spark. Akaya - who has offers from the likes of St. Francis and Navy - lifted the intensity level on defense and forced Deividas Zemgulis to guard him. Zemgulis - who had only made one field goal the whole game - worked to find his shot and every time he missed, Goretti’s Clarance and Akaya made Ryken pay. 2017 guard Chandler Penn came off the bench and provided the spark from downtown, and 2015 Conner Zinaich worked overtime on defense as Goretti was able to pass SMR and take a 10-point lead. SMR's don’t go away easy, though, as they cut the score down to four points with a stop and two 3-point shots. In the end, though, Goretti was able to hold off Ryken and walk away as Tournament Champion for the first time under their new head coach.
NOTE: During the contest, former Goretti Coach Amrit Rayfield was on hand, looking on excited to see what the program has grown too. He said that “ Goretti has a strong foundation not built on transfers but players growing up in the Goretti system.” Rayfield was a strong believer in helping DMVelite grow in the Western Maryland and Panhandle areas.