Lancaster beats Essex, 55-53, for top spot in tournament

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

Lancaster clinched the high seed in this week’s Conference #43 boys basketball tournament by squeaking by a determined Essex, 55-52, in the regular season final for both teams last Tuesday.

With the win, the Red Devils earned a first round bye in this week’s conference tournament and were scheduled to play February 15 in a semifinal against Colonial Beach, a 47-43 quarterfinal winner over Rappahannock. Number two seed Essex was supposed to play Northumberland, which beat Rappahannock County, 73-33, in a quarterfinal.

The winners of the two semifinals will meet in the championship at 8 p.m. Saturday, February 18, at Lancaster High School. The two teams in the final will advance to next week’s Region 1A East tournament.

Barring any major upsets, Lancaster and Essex should meet again in Devil territory in the conference final.

“Colonial Beach scares me to death though,” said LHS coach Tim Rice. “We can’t look past them.”

Lancaster jumped to an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes of last Tuesday’s home game against the Trojans, but then let Essex reel off eight unanswered points, including a crowd-pleasing slam dunk by Alex Peterson. Peterson followed the slam with a fade-away jumper to give Essex a 10-8 lead to set the tone for the rest of the game with LHS taking a short-lived lead and the Trojans battling back.

LHS punched out a quick seven unanswered at the end of the first half to take a 31-22 lead at the break. The Devils hit three three-pointers in the second quarter as part of a 19-10 run but gave up a 16-9 third quarter to the Trojans to lead by only two heading into the fourth.

The Trojans tied the game at 40 to open the fourth and the two teams traded shots and leads until Christian Sutton sank a three pointer with 5:25 to play to give the Devils the lead for good. Essex got as close as one three times in the last 1:25.

“We just kept letting Essex get back in it,” said Rice. “But we always seem to fight through it and I’m proud of how we handle that pressure.”

Lancaster got scoring from nine players. That’s been the norm this season with Rice going to the bench frequently.

“I feel confident with the whole second group I put in,” Rice said. “It keeps the starters fresh.”

James Coleman, who scored nine in the first half, finished with 13 to lead the Devils. Calvin Henderson, Jay Dillon and Sutton each finished with eight.

Essex High’s Peterson led all scorers with 14 points and Kevin Dameron scored 12.

In JV action, the Devils ended the season with a 46-41 loss to Essex, their third loss in an otherwise successful season.

The key was a 12-2 Essex run in the second quarter when the visiting Trojans opened up a three-point first-quarter lead. Essex held the LHS offense to a single field goal by Gerrell Moody.

The Trojans took a 25-12 lead at the half and remained in front by 14 at the end of three before Lancaster made a fourth-quarter run, outscoring the Trojans, 19-10, in the fourth quarter with Corey Smith sinking two three pointers and Moody and BJ Lee scoring four points each.

Lee led the Devils with 11 points, while Smith finished with nine and Moody, eight.