Beating the odds: Crisfield High basketball teams that fooled the skeptics

By Richard Kellam
Posted 12/27/21

Sports based media cover all the various athletic activities from start to finish including pre-season predictions. The Associated Press and the United Press International present their pre-season …

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Beating the odds: Crisfield High basketball teams that fooled the skeptics

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Sports based media cover all the various athletic activities from start to finish including pre-season predictions. The Associated Press and the United Press International present their pre-season Top 25 Polls in both football and basketball. Alabama was the top pick in both football polls this season, the Crimson Tide slipped down as low as fourth but their huge win over Georgia impressed the pollsters enough to elevate them back to the top spot.

Gonzaga was the UPI and AP favorite this year before regular season play commenced. The Bulldogs fell from the top of the heap with their loss to Duke but since then there have been six different number ones. It doesn’t matter much what voters predict — it has to be proved on the field or the court, the only poll that really counts is the final one.

Odds makers take into account injuries, illness, rivalries and home field advantage. They give weekly reports on who the favorites are for each game. Other factors figure in such as past performances in historic rivalries. In some matchups you can disregard the won-lost stats. Consider the county rivalry between Crisfield High School and Washington High you can usually count on an emotional and hotly contested battle.

Sometimes you can throw logic out the window, like in the case of former Detroit Tigers pitcher Frank Lary, who played for the Tigers in the 1950s and ’60s. Lary was an outstanding pitcher. He made several All Star teams but is not of Hall of Fame caliber. Against the New York Yankees he was phenomenal. In 1956 Lary was 5-1 on the mound versus the Bronx Bombers. He bettered that effort in 1958 with an 8-1 mark, both seasons the Yankees were World Series champions.

This goes to show that there are always extenuating circumstances that may come into play and you have to take them into account when picking a winner.

Local high school polls are basically calculated on the strength of returning personal. In 1980 the Salisbury Daily Times conducted its annual Bayside Conference Boys Basketball Pre-Season Poll. Crisfield, the defending Bayside and East Regional champ, lost three starters from a 23-1 squad that had its 50-game win streak snapped in the Class C State semifinal.

The experts at the Times figured this was sufficient enough to thrust the Crabbers back into the middle of the pack. CHS was picked to finish fifth in the South and ninth overall in the Bayside. They would go on to make the poll makers eat their words come March when the Crabbers made it a “threepeat.”

Crisfield entered the 2021-22 season a definitive underdog. Team members were coming in on the heels of two defending Regional championship teams, (2019 and 2020), but that ensemble has long since departed. This year’s edition of the Crabbers under first year Head Coach Ted Lutz does not have a player with previous varsity experience.

In other seasons CHS teams have face similar situations but they pulled together beating the odds compiling successful seasons.

The 1980 Crabbers are a prime example. Others include the 1958, 1962, 1964, 1970 and 1977 teams. Those Crisfield hopefuls were counted down and out, they fooled the skeptics proving that you can never count the Crabbers out hopefully this year’s squad can follow suit.

The Crisfield boys opened the 1980 season still smarting from their State semifinal loss at Cole Field House in March, a defeat tainted by suspicious officiating. Coach Bill Cain lost three starters including the exciting James Jackson, one of the Crisfield’s most physically talented players ever, along with point guard Denny Laird, a key figure in the Crabbers successful two-year run.

Cain did have Curt Whittington and Mike Ward back for their senior campaign, both were selected First team All South, Whittington South MVP. It seems the pollsters overlooked or underestimated this pair’s potential. Cain built the 1980 Crabbers around this “Dynamic Duo,” they would be named South Co-MVPs. Cain filled in his lineup with returnees Chris Custis, Scott Maddox and Tony Evans and sophomore Paul Cottingham.

Wishful thinking may have been factored into the poll makers mentality. The Crabbers were unbeaten in Bayside action the past two seasons, the competition was frustrated, anxious to dethrone the Crabbers. Ward, Whittington and company paid no attention to all the pre-season hype. Crisfield swept through its first 6 games including a huge 64-52 win over Bennett — one of the pre-season South favorites.

The Crabbers suffered their first defeat in the title game of the Holiday Tournament, a 52-51 overtime loss to Easton, the Warriors Dwayne Brooks clinched it with a near half court buzzer beater.

CHS rebounded with 7 straight triumphs, a repeat victory over Bennett and wins over Wi-Hi, Washington and Decatur. Crisfield defeated Snow Hill by a 72-47 count in the first meeting and CHS came to the rematch sporting a Conference best 13-1 record. Crisfield was whistled for 19 fouls and the Eagles held a disproportional 24-5 advantage in free throws, and held on for a 55-53 win. Snow Hill also beat Cambridge-South Dorchester on their home floor under similar circumstances.

Washington handed CHS their third defeat but Crisfield had already clinched the Division. Crisfield triumphed over Cambridge-SD in the Bayside clash; the Vikings would go on to claim State Class B honors at College Park. CHS rallied to beat Washington 62-56 in the Regionals, Snow Hill was eliminated by North Caroline.

Crisfield stopped the upstart Bulldogs to advance to the State Semis where they defeated Valley followed by a 66-60 win over Mt. Hebron for the Class C State championship.

The Crabbers had proven the critics wrong.