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Blair Garrett

This Mount team has been through rough stretches before.

Head Coach Dan Engelstad preaches a defense-first game to his Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team. The defense feeds the offense, and for large portions of the season, the Mount has thrived on that mentality.

For as solid as the defense has been, the challenge for every quality team is playing and closing out full games with a shutdown defense and turning those stops into counterattacks.

The Mount’s game on February 15 against St. Francis epitomized that struggle for consistency.

The first half for Mount St. Mary’s was as clinical and efficient as they have looked all season. The defense was suffocating, and it played perfectly into the team’s stellar transition game.

St. Francis is one of the top teams in the Northeast Conference (NEC), and the Mount held them to just 20 points in the first half. Forward Nana Opoku’s tenacity in the paint shut down opportunities for St. Francis’ top scorers, and that energy fueled the offense in the first frame.

Mount St. Mary’s held a 15-point lead and looked as dominant as Engelstad strives for his team to be.

“We had a really good effort in the first half,” Engelstad said. “I thought our defense was in a good place once we started sprinting back and getting stops. We did a really good job of holding a good offensive team to 20 points.”

The momentum quickly shifted at halftime, though, and the scope of the game changed rapidly over the next 15 minutes.

St. Francis’ offense exploded, and the second and third chance opportunities that were shut down in the first half were suddenly available in the second frame.

“The second half was the tale of two teams,” Engelstad said. “We got comfortable, and they hurt us inside and outside. We’ve got to look inward. There are a lot of things we need to do better, that I need to do better.”

St. Francis outscored and out-rebounded the Mount drastically over the second half, pulling out a 15-point lead and closing out the game with a 70-55 victory over Mount St. Mary’s.

“We have to find a way to get stops,” Jalen Gibbs said. “It’s not going to be easy, and we know that. We just have to keep pushing.”

There is no easy fix for consistency, outside of putting the hours in practice day in and day out, but it’s not for lack of effort on the basketball court.

“We’ve been through tough stretches and come out with four wins in a row on the road,” Gibbs said. “We just need to lock into the details.”

With just a handful of games left in the season, it’s now or never for this Mount team. The talent is there, the effort is there, and the right attitude emanates through the locker room.

“This is the biggest part of our season. We still have a lot to play for,” Engelstad said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we still have a lot more basketball ahead of us.”

The Mount control their own fate, and despite the struggles as of late, the team’s in-conference record has them in the thick of it in competing for a long postseason. This team has faltered on its path before and come out stronger than ever, and there’s no reason they can’t replicate that to close out the regular season.

With its most important games still left to play, this Mount team now has the chance to execute to its potential and prove to everyone that this team isn’t going down without a fight.

Jalen Gibbs takes it to the hoop on the counterattack.

Blair Garrett

Basketball is a game of momentum.

After dominating the majority of the game and a last-minute comeback, Catoctin Boys Hoops steadied the ship to edge out Smithsburg, 67-63, on January 14. The team then kept pace with the region, taking out Clear Spring and Williamsport consecutively.

The Smithsburg win was hard-fought with a down-to-the-wire slugfest between two rivals.

The neck and neck contest saw both teams battling for control throughout much of the first half, with Catoctin holding a 26-23 lead over the Leopards. Head coach Brian Burdette lit a fire under his team to start the third quarter, and the Cougars never looked back.

“Coming off the game against Middletown, I knew we were going to come out a little flat to start,” Burdette said. “We regrouped and started to do the things we wanted to do offensively, and we were able to get clean looks at the basket to heat up and pull away a little bit.”

Rivalries always add a bit of spice to a game. With the home crowd roaring, the Cougars came out with winning energy and intensity in the second half.

Catoctin’s explosive third quarter was led by forward David Parker, whose rebounding prowess in the paint gave problems to Smithsburg throughout the game. Parker’s ability to extend plays let the team’s outside shooters flourish, pushing the Cougar lead to as much as 17. Catoctin held a 47-33 advantage in rebounds on the night.

Nailing three-pointers and scoring off the transition put the Cougars firmly into the driver’s seat. When Catoctin can find the open man and stretch out the defense, they are at their best. “When we move the ball, and we cut to get some open looks at the basket, we’re able to knock them down,” Burdette said.

A buzzer-beater to close out the third quarter saw Catoctin ahead 49-35, but the game was far from over. The contest evolved into a chess match, with both coaches wisely using timeouts to stifle the opposition’s momentum. Smithsburg is a team that has no quit, and momentum can change in the blink of an eye.

After holding a 17-point lead with six minutes left, a Smithsburg timeout gave the team life to rally back, putting the home team on its heels late in the game. With the clock winding down, the Leopards continued to pick up steam with defensive tenacity and quick-strike offense.

Smithsburg guard Morgan Hyman hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, putting the Cougars dangerously close to losing their lead. Catoctin headed to the free-throw line with 4.6 on the clock and a two-point lead, and made no mistake, sinking both and putting the game out of reach.

The Cougars’ close call against Smithsburg came as no surprise to Burdette, who has taken notice of the Leopards’ ability to battle back late in games. “I watched the three other games this season, and they’ve come back,” he said. “They don’t give up, and they’re a scrappy ball club. I knew they were capable of doing that.”

With three wins in a row and another big win under their belt, the Cougars are quickly shaping up for the playoff season. While logging these early wins is ideal, the team attitude of always having something to improve on will carry them far.

“We’ve got to improve taking care of the ball in transition,” Burdette said.

When the team is firing on all cylinders, it is hard to beat. If the team continues to integrate its depth and facilitate the ball, there is no telling how far it can go.

Morgan Hyman (left) and Tommy Fitzpatrick (right) battle for possession.

Sara Wastler Lambert (pictured right) was inducted into the Hood College Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday, September 28, 2019. She is a 2005 graduate of Catoctin High School and a 2009 graduate of Hood College.

Sara was a two-sport athlete for all four of her Hood years, as a member of the softball and women’s basketball programs. She was named All-Region in softball in 2006, and helped lead the team to back-to-back Atlantic Women’s Colleges Conference Championships and appearances in the NCAA Regional. She holds Hood’s all-time record for hits, runs scored, stolen bases, and doubles. She ranks among the Blazers’ all-time leaders in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, games played, at bats, triples, home runs, and runs batted in.

On the basketball court, she helped Hood win the 2006 AWCC Championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. In basketball, she holds the Blazers’ career record for three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Sara is among the all-time leaders in three-pointers made and assists.

She was the assistant girl’s basketball coach at Catoctin High School for seven years, and the head varsity softball coach at Middletown for two years.

Sara is in her eighth year of teaching, and in her fourth year of teaching physical education at Rockland Woods Elementary School in Washington County.

Blair Garrett

The Madness is underway, and while some of our brackets were devastated from day one, there are still a few of us who keep marching on. As upsets mount and top-seeded teams fall left and right, let’s take a look at the updated bracket after last week’s round one chaos.

The chances of picking a perfect bracket are almost a mathematical impossibility, but that doesn’t stop us from trying and failing every year. Picking the perfect bracket is so difficult, in fact, that nobody has ever done it, and there is a near guaranteed chance that nobody ever will.

The numbers are hard to quantify based on strength of teams and other variables, and strictly from a statistical stand point, the 64-team tournament has over 9.2 quintillion possible outcomes (one quintillion is one billion billions). That is several quintillion more than there are grains of sand on earth per ncaa.com.

As one can imagine, with the nearly incalculable amount of bracket possibilities, March Madness fanatics barely scathe even a fraction of a percentage of all bracket outcomes each year. But just how crazy is the USA for college basketball’s most electric tournament? Estimates for 2019 exceed 70 million people will put their wallets and pride on the line for a tournament that is notorious for its upsets, high-octane pace, and electric finishes. So, to all who are participating in this year’s March Madness Bracket Challenge, best of luck. You’re going to need it.

*The Catoctin Banner’s Bracket challenge features locals from across the Catoctin Area, and the winning bracket will be featured in the May edition of The Catoctin Banner. Follow us on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss out on future challenges, and you could be featured in our next edition of The Catoctin Banner!