5A South Region Semifinals tonight at Hermitage High offered games that couldn't have more contrast. While the Highland Springs girls were looking for a third win over Atlee after beating the Raiders by 50 plus points in the previous two matchups.
The similar formula from the other games showed up with Highland Springs forcing Atlee turnovers, going down low for easy baskets. By halftime, it was 51-17. The Springers rolled the rest of the way for a 89-33 win to move to 23-1 on the season.
Delaware State commit Briana Justice led the Springers with 16 points while Najai Pollard added 14, 10 of them in the opening 10 minutes. E'Shay Winfield scored 10, so did freshman Cam Gaitling.
Highland Springs arguably faces their biggest test since their lone loss, 50-49 at the hands of Cosby on December 23rd, when they play Princess Anne, Conference 9 Champion on Monday at 6pm at Churchland High School in Portsmouth. Princess Anne took Cosby to overtime on January 18th in the StatVa.com Classic before falling 80-77. Justyce Swango and Gadiva Hubbard are two key players for the success of the Cavaliers, who are 25-1 on the season.
The nightcap was expected to be a classic, and it more than lived up to billing. L.C. Bird took the early lead in the Boys 5A South Region Semifinal and kept it, and kept it, and kept it. Henrico would cut the margin, only to see another trey by diminuitive 5'6" guard C.J. Miles up the lead again. Frankly, the Warriors were lucky to be down just 3 at 28-25 at the half, having shot 35 percent from the field, shooting 2-of-9 from three-point range.
The Warriors seemed to settle for threes early in the third quarter when they ached to punch it inside, the Bird defense stiffening, not allowing Plan A for Vance Harmon's crew.
Though the scoreboard being in Bird's favor continuing throughout most of the second half, everything else changed. Players got quicker, hit the floor for loose balls with more abandon, and Monte Buckingham took over down low.
Two putbacks off offensive rebounds for Buckingham kept the Warriors stay within reach, helping Henrico cut a 42-31 deficit to 46-40. In the final seconds of the third quarter, Ryan Pearson of Henrico and CJ Miles of LC Bird traded treys. It was 49-45 Skyhawks with a period to play.
Miles committed his third foul in first minute of play, the Warriors hitting 1 of 2 free throws. At 49-46, Bird again pressed on the medal with four quick points. It's 53-46 with 6:00 to go.
Buckingham drives and gets an "And One" to cut the Bird lead to 53-49 at the five-minute mark. Then, in a most interesting stretch, Mario Haskett missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the Warriors couldn't convert. Skyhawk defense forces a turnover. They called time with 3:04 to go to set strategy up four.
Bird opted to lengthen possessions, milking clock. The chance you take by doing that is you risk your hot shooters like Miles, as well as Williams, to stand around and go cold as the nerves rise. Little things began to go the Warriors' way, like forcing Bird to take a second quick timeout at 2:54 left.
Back into play, the stars rose to the occasioin with Kenny Williams scoring a bucket, and Buckingham responding. 55-51 when Bird turns it over with 2:00 left.
You expect the cream to rise to the top, and Buckingham does just that with the "And One" five seconds later to cut the Skyhawk lead to 55-54, 1:55 left. After a nice Bird basket, Henrico found Marquis Johnson open in the corner for a trey to tie the game 57-57, 1:30 to go. Some fans near the play in the bleachers down low at Hermitage got into it, forcing a brief pause in action as officials, event workers and police on scene quelled the storm.
If you've ever been to a game at Hermitage you know that the bleachers down low at courtside are right on the court, conducive for a problem such as this.
As they settled down the combatants not in uniforms, the dueling student section/cheerleading chants drowned out the rest of the crowd. "Frenzy" was in full effect.
Bird inbounded the ball, but it wasn't long before Henrico stole it. With just over a minute to play, the Warriors opted to hold for the last shot. The Skyhawks only had five team fouls in the half, so they waited, then fouled with 11.1 to go. On the ensuing inbounds to Buckingham, he was fouled with 8.7 to go. They take the ball out again, Williams fouling Buckingham on the baseline with 8.1 to go.
Buckingham made the first, missed the second (and later told HCS Media Network the miss was part of his plan), giving Bird one last chance. Kenny Williams ran the length of the floor, took a shot, and watched it fall short. The buzzer sounded, and the dream of back-to-back state titles is alive.
(Kenny Williams driving for what would have been the game winner, but it missed...)
Buckingham scored 22 points to lead Henrico, going 9-for-11 from the field and grabbing 10 rebounds. Marquis Johnson had key baskets, adding up to 13 on the night. Matthew Wallace had 8 and Ryan Pearson had 7.
Henrico moves to 20-5 and next plays for the 5A South Regional Championship on Monday night, 8pm at Churchland HS in Portsmouth against Maury High School, champions of Conference 9 who beat Green Run in the other Regional Semifinal tonight.
Meanwhile, in the 4A South Boys Region Championship Game, Glen Allen fought back from a five-point I.C. Norcom lead at halftime to be down as few as one before not being able to take the lead when they had possession with 37 seconds to go. Norcom survives 52-48, which means the Jaguars will play the 4A North Champion, either Handley or GW-Danville, who play Saturday night, in the state semifinals. The game will be either at James Madison if Handley wins or at the Salem Civic Center if GW-Danville wins.