By Matt Cohen
For the second time in four years, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Barons boys basketball team will be playing for the region championship. B-CC entered the playoffs as a one seed, and reached this stage of the playoffs by defeating Churchill in the section semifinals after a first round bye, and beating Whitman in the section final on Wednesday. In the region championship game, the Barons will face the Gaithersburg Trojans.
Gaithersburg received a two seed in the playoffs after a regular season where the Trojans finished with a 17-4 record. To arrive at the regional championship, Gaithersburg narrowly defeated Richard Montgomery after a first round bye, and crushed Clarksburg in the section final.
Gaithersburg lost to Clarksburg in the section final in 2014 and 2016. This year, they finally got past Clarksburg, and won the section. The Trojans last reached the state semifinals in 1998, when they went on to win the state championship in five overtimes against Oxon Hill. The last time the Barons reached the region championship was 2015. The Barons went to the state final that year before losing to Meade.
B-CC and Gaithersburg did meet once during the regular season, with the Trojans dominating the Barons, winning 76-55. B-CC committed turnover after turnover in that game, and the loaded Gaithersburg backcourt capitalized.
Gaithersburg is led by a 13 year old freshman sensation, Jao Ituka. Ituka first started to gain attention this year from his highlight reel dunks, though as the season has progressed, this young player has proven to be more than just a dunker. Ituka scored 24 points against B-CC, and leads the Trojans in points per game, averaging 17.8.
Fellow freshman Jordan Hawkins hasn’t gotten as much hype as Ituka, but he’s been very important to the Trojans’ success. Hawkins is a better shooter than Ituka, hitting 47 threes this season compared to Ituka’s 12. Hawkins is averaging 12.9 points per game.
While the freshman have been the core of this young team, the Trojans have had senior leadership in the form of Kevin Neal. Neal is in somewhat of a supporting role to Ituka and Hawkins, but he also averages 12.9 points per game, and has scored 20+ points in a game four times this year.
Gaithersburg had an impressive regular season resume, including wins over B-CC, a fully healthy Springbrook team, Richard Montgomery, Rockville and Seneca Valley. The Springbrook win may have been the signature win for this Trojans team, a game in which Ituka scored 24 and Neal scored 21.
Since losing to Gaithersburg all the way back on December 15, B-CC has not lost an in-County game. B-CC is currently on an 18 game in-County win streak and a 16 game overall win streak.
Even without Gordon Gibson in the lineup, B-CC has a chance to beat the Trojans. In fact, B-CC may actually be better suited to beat Gaithersburg. In games without Gibson, the Barons go smaller, and play a faster pace, which is the style Gaithersburg plays. With an extra guard, Tyler Groom, in the starting lineup, B-CC will be better able to run with the Trojans.
On the other hand, B-CC isn’t as deep as Gaithersburg is. Justin Graves and Jack Robinson, both guards, are the only bench options B-CC has used this year. Head coach Sean Tracy has said in the past that he isn’t worried about depth, and that certainly won’t change for this game.
B-CC and Gaithersburg will tip off at 1:00 pm on Saturday at Richard Montgomery High School.