From The Hardwood: Best is yet to come for Shore hoops

The historic season by the No. 11 Salisbury University women's basketball team came to an end on Saturday night in the Elite Eight as No. 7 Montclair State University jumped out to an early lead and held on for a 68-44 decision.

The historic season by the No. 11 Salisbury University women’s basketball team came to an end on Saturday night in the Elite Eight as No. 7 Montclair State University jumped out to an early lead and held on for a 68-44 decision.

This past weekend for basketball on the Eastern Shore was a bummer.

On Thursday, the men’s team at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore lost in the quarter final of the MEAC tournament in Norfolk. On Friday, the Wicomico high boys’ team lost in the semi-finals of the 2A MPSSAA state tournament in College Park. On Saturday, the Salisbury University women’s team fell in the Elite Eight of the Division III tournament and the UMES women lost in the final of their conference tournament.

Lots of chances culminated into lots of losses, but no one was disappointed in what any of the basketball teams from the Shore did this year.  In fact, it was the best season that the UMES men have had in over three decades – winning 18 games – and the best season that the Salisbury women have had in the history of the 90-year old program – winning 28 games along with a conference title.

And as the Hawks’ men’s head coach Bobby Collins said in his post-game radio interview after losing to Hampton, “the best is yet to come.”

When Collins said that, I think he was talking specifically about his team, but the same can be true for all four of the college teams on the lower shore – men and women’s teams at UMES and Salisbury – and at Wi-Hi.

The Salisbury men’s team won their conference tourney this year as well for the first time since 1996 and returns a team next season that will be without two seniors, but just one of them was a starter. In his fourth season as head coach, Josh Merkel has pieced together a solid roster for the Sea Gulls and has the program headed in the right direction for the first time in many years. The community is starting to notice too, as Maggs gym was packed for the Sea Gulls victory in the conference championship game.

People showed up to watch the women’s team too.

“We were fortunate on the men’s side to have large crowds like that a few times in the 90’s and in the 2000’s on the women’s side,” SU athletic director Dr. Michael Vienna said. “So, you know, people can talk about marketing and things like that, but when you win games, people will show up.”

People showed up to watch the UMES teams this year too. Coach Collins led the men’s team to 18 wins while Fred Batchelor led the women’s side to 14 wins and three upset victories in the MEAC tournament.

The men’s team for UMES will lose some key seniors like big man Mike Myers, but they’ll return center Dominique Elliot, swing man Devin Martin and MEAC rookie of the year Ryan Andino. They’ll also gain Parkside high product, Colen Gaynor.

For the high school teams on the Shore, much of the talent is moving on. Parkside’s three-headed monster of Gaynor, Dajour Diggs and Juwan Williams are graduating, Jorden Duffy is out of eligibility at James M. Bennett and key seniors like Nelson Brown and Trevell Jones are graduating from Wi-Hi.

However, Butch Waller’s Indians will return Torrey Brittingham next season – this year’s Bayside Player of the Year.

The junior point guard scored 19 points in their loss to Patterson on Friday night, but will return to Wi-Hi next season with his cousin Jordan and forward Ly Stanley. A few more players will likely be added one way or another to the Wi-Hi squad, but like UMES’ Collins, Brittingham believes that the best is yet to come for the Indians and vows to be back in College Park next season.

“We had a great season on the Shore, but we didn’t expect to come up here and lose like this,” Brittingham said. “When I come here next year, I have no plans of losing – at all. I’m going to put my heart into every play, take no plays off and lead by example.”

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