Alex Rychwalski | The MPSSAA should be embarrassed

Mar. 8—ROCKVILLE — When you advance to the state tournament in the state of West Virginia, the athletes are treated like rock stars. At Richard Montgomery High School on Tuesday, they were treated as after-thoughts.

The debacle began before the girls state semifinal between Mountain Ridge and Forest Park even began.

When the Miners arrived at the school in Rockville at their designated place and time, there was no state representative to meet them.

A Richard Montgomery student had to let head coach Rob Duncan inside.

"I basically broke into the school to let them in," he said.

The situation didn't improve once inside the building.

Five bulbs above the noticeably darker court were out, and both nets were shredded, prompting Richard Montgomery staff to replace them less than an hour before tip-off.

Each team was only given five basketballs each to warm up. In a state semifinal game.

Then came the real kicker: Neither shot clock was operational.

At the biggest moment of these girls' seasons in what could be the peak of their athletic lives, they would be playing with different rules than they had played under all year.

"The state is a disaster," Duncan said. "I'm sorry, it is unfair to Forest Park. It is unfair to us. Every direction that we were given on the things that we were supposed to do when we got here, none of it happened."

It's not the fault of the school, which was selected as a designated host site before the season began, the onus falls on the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which didn't even bother to send someone to prepare the site beforehand.

Matters worsened when Mountain Ridge was called for a 10-second violation — which doesn't exist in the current Maryland girls basketball ruleset.

After a lengthy discussion, the call stood.

"The 10-second count, the referee says, 'I told you that,'" Duncan said. "He told me that we were going to play without a 30-second clock, they never said that. We've played an entire season in Maryland without a 10-second clock. We're going to get to the state semifinal and now we're going to play with 10 seconds."

It's even more embarrassing that the clocks were fixed soon after the first semifinal game concluded. School staff climbed a ladder, unplugged them and plugged them back in.

That fixed it. Imagine if someone had tested them before the first game?

Duncan and his assistant coaches Todd Snyder and Charlie Grove didn't fill their team in on the debacle transpiring on the court pregame, and the strategy paid off.

The Miners shut out top-seeded Forest Park, 6-0, in the first and led 21-9 at the half en route to a 37-20 victory to punch their ticket to the state title game.

"We tried to keep those things from the girls," Duncan said. "I don't think Sydney (Snyder) realized until we walked out on the floor and I said, 'There's no shot clock.' And she said, 'What, there's no shot clock?'

"I was very frustrated. Credit to my coaching staff, they kept me very focused on the task at hand."

Mountain Ridge had some experience without a shot clock with games at Frankfort and Keyser in West Virginia and ones at Shalom, Berlin and Chestnut Ridge in Pennsylvania.

When did Forest Park head coach Jermaine Dunn find out his girls would be playing without a 30-second clock for the first time this season?

"Right before the game started," he said. "It changed our strategy because we're a team that likes to speed things up. We play an aggressive style of basketball. ... But it's adversity and that's life."

The state of Maryland's playoff system has always been a disaster, and if you're from that side of the Potomac and ever get a chance to attend the West Virginia state tournament in Charleston — don't.

It will only further your frustration.

All the games beginning at the state quarterfinals, for all four classes and both sexes, are played in an arena. The teams stay in hotels. There's a food court at the Charleston Town Center adjacent to the Civic Center.

Press conferences are professionally run before media, not in a spare, empty classroom in the basement of a school like they were at Richard Montgomery.

Fortunately for Mountain Ridge, it'll get to experience the big-time treatment when it plays for the state championship at the University of Maryland's Xfinity Center on Saturday.

Imagine how Forest Park's two seniors feel? Their lasting memory playing high school basketball is under a different rule-set and in a sub-par gymnasium. Win or lose, a state semifinal should feel special.

They probably feel cheated. They should.

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.