by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
The Trojans outlasted the Red Devils last Saturday night after 32 minutes of frenzied run and shoot offense on both sides.
Essex, avenging three earlier season losses, including one for the conference trophy, held on for a 70-68 win over Lancaster at Cumberland High School to claim the Region 1A-East tournament championship and a high seed in this week’s state tournament.
Essex will play Region 1A-West’s fourth place team, Eastside, at 3 p.m. tomorrow, March 3, at Virginia High School in Bristol.
Lancaster, as the number two East team, will play the third place team from the West, Honaker, tomorrow at 8:15 p.m. at Virginia High School. Honaker and Lancaster come into the Group 1A quarterfinal round with identical 21-4 records.
Losing to the Trojans “was a bad but good thing,” said LHS junior forward Martez Davis, who had the steal and break away lay-up to pull Lancaster within one point with one second on the clock last Saturday.
“Now we won’t get too big-headed,” added junior guard Calvin Henderson, who admitted the Trojans just wore them down this go-round.
“We got a little winded,” he said. “And it’s not like we were taking bad shots. We just had bad luck and they weren’t falling.”
From the start, both teams played like time was running out, fast and furious.
The game opened, not with a jump ball, but with Essex going to the foul line on a pre-game technical on Lancaster for dunking during warm-ups. Then the Trojans sank back-to-back three pointers and took a 9-0 lead before Davis drilled a three to open for Lancaster nearly three minutes into the game.
Lancaster trailed by six after one quarter but went on a 9-4 run to pull within a point after Jay Dillon hit his first of four three-pointers in the game. Dwayne Ball hit two free throws to give Lancaster its first lead of the game, 27-26, with 3:24 to play in the half. Dillon hit a crowd-pleasing three at the halftime buzzer to send Lancaster in the locker room up 34-31.
The Devils took a five-point lead late in the third after an offensive rebound and stick back by Jamil Redmond and were leading by six with 5:44 to play in the game when Alex Peterson opened an 8-0 run for the Trojans. Jay’vel Richardson’s shot with 4:11 to go tied the contest at 59-59 and Essex took the lead on a steal by Peterson and shot by Tamaje’ Jones.
A stick back by Ball retied the game at 61-61 but a three-pointer by KVonte’ Moore put the Trojans in front for good with two minutes to play. Essex led by as much six, 67-61, in the final minutes before Lancaster rallied with a 7-1 run capped by a steal and lay-in by Davis to close the gap to one, 69-68, with a second to play. An immediate foul on the inbounds by Lancaster sent Moore to the line to sink one of two. Lancaster was left with no time to get a shot off.
Dillon scored 16 points to lead Lancaster’s scorers with Davis and Ball adding 11 points each. James Coleman, Lancaster’s leading scorer this season, was held to six points.
Peterson paced the scoring column for Essex with 18 and Richardson added 11.
Davis, who is averaging a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds per outing, said the Devils will have to “play our offense,” in this week’s state game against Honaker. “We’ve got to go over and over our plays more this week.”
Physical under the basket, Davis said “[Honaker] has two big boys, but I think I can handle them.”
Playing in the big show is nothing new to most of coach Tim Rice’s Red Devils, who advanced to the championship game last year and finished as the Group 1A runner-up.
“No more being star struck,” said Henderson. “We got this.”
In the semifinal game, Lancaster had no trouble getting by Mathews, with a 33-point victory at Cumberland High School last Thursday night.
With a 31-7 run in the second quarter, Lancaster blew the game open early and cruised to a 78-45 win over the Blue Devils.
Led by Davis with 13 and Christian Sutton with 10, the Red Devils got scoring from 15 of their 16 players in a balanced effort.
Lancaster only held a four-point lead after the first quarter but exploded for 31 points in the second, including seven from Santese Ball and six from Jahlil Nickens. The Red Devils were up 50-22 at the half.
Sutton and Jay Dillon led Lancaster’s outside shooters with three three-pointers each.
Mathews’ Stuart Anderson Jr. had 20 points to lead all scorers and account for nearly 50% of the Blue Devils’ offense.
In the quarterfinal game, Lancaster rode an early lead to a 76-52 win over Franklin.
Coleman drilled a pair of three-pointers in the first quarter and finished with four in the first half as Lancaster rolled to a 41-31 lead. The Devils jumped ahead early, getting six from Coleman and four from Darius Reed and Jamil Redmond for a 21-10 first quarter run.
The two teams traded shots in a high-scoring 21-20 second quarter in favor of the Broncos. But Lancaster rallied for a 19-13 run in the third and outscored the visitors by eight in the fourth with Coleman and Sutton scoring six each in the final eight minutes.
Coleman had the hot hands for Lancaster and led all scorers with 23 points. Reed finished with 11 and Davis 10.