It was hard to believe Henrico Warriors basketball had captured two state championships since the last time they hoisted the trophy from their own holiday tournament.
But since their last Henrico Holiday Hoops title in 2012, head coach Vance Harmon's crew had won state championships in 2013 and this past March. In between? A pair of disappointing losses in their tournament championship, two years ago in overtime to the team that would later deny the Warriors a three-peat at the state level in Potomac, and, last year, a one-point loss to eventual 6A state champion Colonial Forge, the only blemish in a 28-1 campaign.
Between Henrico and the trophy was second-ranked St. Christopher's, who, at 11-0, were looking for their third tournament title this month, having won the Rebel Invitational at Douglas Freeman December 4th and the Times-Dispatch Invitational one week ago. Two future Richmond Spiders collided as St. Christopher's Nick Sherod battled Henrico's Monte Buckingham.
Each team had huge runs in the first half, which ended in a 40-40 deadlock. But Henrico pushed ahead at the outset of the third quarter, keeping the Saints at bay and sealing the win on the boards and at the free throw line for an 87-74 win for the title, and a 10-0 record.
The Warriors built an early 13-3 lead, and led 21-17 after a quarter. That's when St. Christopher's took off, bursting out to a 33-24 lead when, suddenly, a bank of lights which had been out much of the day inside the Henrico gym, but were restored late in the Third Place Game previously, won by Trinity Episcopal over Collegiate 60-46, went out again. Coaches, then referees conferred, joined by one of the men who had spent the afternoon working on the problem.
The teams decided to play on, and, thankfully, full lighting was quickly restored and remained for the rest of the game. Now it was Henrico clawing back into the game and, with a three-pointer from Richard Sanders just before the buzzer, the Warriors tied the game at 40-40 at intermission.
The Warriors again seized the early moments of a quarter, this time the third, building a cushion that the Saints could never erase, spending the rest of the night playing catch up. Sharp shooter Alex Petrie was held to 5-of-24 shooting from the field, hounded much of the night defensively by Jamal Newton, who played well despite some foul trouble. But it was Sanders who came up big in his role for Henrico, shooting 60 percent from the field, and 80 percent (4-of-5) from beyond the arc for 19 points.
The usual suspects, Sherod and Buckingham, led their teams in scoring, Nic with 29 and Monte with 28, making their future head coach, Chris Mooney, who was at the game, assumedly very happy. But, in the end, it was a simple matter of who was hot and who was not from the field. Henrico shot 57.7%, taking advantage of drives to the basket for easier shots, while St. Christopher's shot 37.3%, including 31% (9-of-29) from three-point range.
The Saints are 11-1 and will be a legitimate VISAA state championship threat. The Warriors now get ready for a busy first week of January that begins with a trip to always dangerous Douglas Freeman Monday and ends with a date against Lake Taylor Saturday night in the VirginiaPreps.com Classic at J.R. Tucker High School.
But, as Henrico trainer Rob Welch pointed out to this reporter as we left Guy Davis Court Wednesday night, the Warriors finished the calendar year of 2015 undefeated. They can only hope 2016 can be just as rewarding.