As Severna Park and Leonardtown battled to a near-tie in the first half of a regional playoff game on February 25, both teams gathered at halftime to discuss respective strategies that would lift them to a win.
The Falcons focused on defense and executed their adjustments to perfection, limiting the Raiders to 11 second-half points on the way to a 48-38 Severna Park victory.
In the first half, the teams nearly went shot for shot. Severna Park’s Declan Fox hit a 3-pointer to give the Falcons a 9-6 lead early in the contest. Bryce Stevenson added a bucket and a free throw, putting the Falcons up 11-10 after a few scores by the Raiders. On the next possession, Fox made a nifty pass to Stevenson, who buried a shot from the perimeter. Leonardtown’s Landon Windell answered with his own 3-pointer, tying the game at 14.
Anthony Bocchetta added back-to-back buckets, scoring the second on a reverse layup to put Severna Park ahead 18-16. The Raiders continued the fast tempo, with Trent Hoyt hitting a 3 to spark a 9-1 run. Severna Park fought back as Brendan Abell and Fox scored to close the gap, giving the Raiders a 27-26 lead at halftime.
Needing to seize control of the game, Severna Park boys basketball head coach Paul Pellicani and his assistant coaches changed their defensive approach.
“We made a stronger commitment on how we were going to handle that high pick and roll and also how we were going to defend the wings,” Pellicani said. “They were turning the corner, and then we were coming and sliding to help, and they were kicking to the wings, and we just made a couple of adjustments there.”
From there, it was almost all Severna Park. In the third quarter, Bocchetta tipped a Leonardtown shot attempt to himself for a rebound and passed the ball to Fox, who raced down the court and executed a behind-the-back pass to an open Abell, who reclaimed the Severna Park lead, 28-27. Bocchetta added two on a pull-up jumper and then Michael Bowles came off the bench to nail a 3-pointer, giving all the momentum to Severna Park.
“Michael Bowles has become like our spark plug,” Bocchetta said after the game. “He comes in, hits two [points], almost like immediately. That really got us going and kind of got everyone around us to pick it up.”
On the other end of the court, the defense stymied Leonardtown, causing errant passes and contested shots while holding the Raiders to five points in the third quarter. The Falcons capitalized on many of those opportunities. Abell hit another shot from beyond the arc to give Severna Park its biggest lead of the game, 39-29, and scored following an offensive rebound to keep the 10-point lead, 42-32, after three quarters.
“I felt like everything was going our way, [like] tipped balls, and just helped us pull out the win,” Bocchetta said. “It just felt like we were all in the zone and shots were knocking down.”
Both teams played strong defense in the fourth quarter, and Severna Park added to their cushion with layups by Stevenson and Abell.
The Falcons earned the 48-38 win, led offensively by Bocchetta and Abell (11 points each), Stevenson (nine points) and Fox (seven points).
The players’ poise, battling back from small deficits throughout the first half, was instrumental in the win.
“We talk a lot about that in terms of in every game, there are moments of adversity, and it’s how you react to that adversity. There was no panic,” Pellicani said. “We’re a system program. We have to be a system program. And they stayed in that system and good things happened.”
With the win, No. 3 seed Severna Park is scheduled to play No. 2 seed North Point on February 28 in the regional semifinals.
When asked what the Falcons need to do if they want to keep advancing in the playoffs. Bocchetta said they need to start hot and stay hot.
“Starting off and being more physical, getting more loose balls, getting more offensive rebounds,” he said. “[Leonardtown] had a lot of offensive rebounds, more than we would have liked.”
As the game against Leonardtown demonstrated, Severna Park has depth, which will be key during the playoff run.
“Right now, [games are] every other day, so in terms of fresh legs, disperse some of those minutes,” Pellicani said. “Should there be foul trouble or other things that happen in any given game, that’s going to be key.”