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February 9, 2014
#1 Woodside Sweeps #7 Kecoughtan
Final - - #1 Woodside 66, #7 Kecoughtan 57:
For much of the 2013-14 High School Basketball season, the #1 spot in Group 6A was a revolving door. The #1 ranked team changed five straight weeks to open the campaign. Herndon then took the spot and stayed there for five consecutive weeks until losing, which moved the Woodside Wolverines out of Newport News to the dreaded #1 slot last week.
It didn't look to be playing in Woodside's favor on Saturday night as they fell behind by 12 in the first quarter against the visiting Kecoughtan Warriors. But the Wolverines battled back, pulling within two at half-time and outlasted Kecoughtan in a run-and-gun style game, 66-57 to capture the regular season crown in 6A-South Conference 2, recently labeled the Monitor Merrimac Conference.
With the win, Woodside is now 19-3 overall, and perhaps most impressively, 18-1 over the final 19 regular season contests. Their last loss came at Nansemond River back on January 4th. Best of all, the Wolverines have locked up a berth for the 6A-South Regional playoffs, meaning they need to win only two games to punch their ticket to the State Final Four.
"These opportunities are rare and we tried to address it with our guys. We're so young as a team that we're trying to help our guys understand where we are, the setting, the opportunity. They're intelligent kids and they understood what was at stake tonight. I've been around long enough to know that automatic bid is a very precious thing," remarked Woodside Head Basketball Coach Erick Mays.
"I'm super proud of the guys' effort. We did get off to a rough start and it was Senior Night. We have five seniors and wanted to honor them by starting, and that just makes for a little unusual way. I was very proud of the way we responded, thought we started to buckle down defensively and playing fast like we want to."
At the forefront of their attack was 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Chris Orlina, a strong candidate for Player of the Year honors. Orlina scored a game-high 29 points to offset the 26 points poured in by Kecoughtan star junior point guard Marcell Haskett.
Without Orlina getting in a groove, the Wolverines might've been playing a tie-breaker game for the automatic #1 seed for regionals against the Warriors on Wednesday night.
"Coach puts us in the situations a lot in practice of going through adversity, switching the teams up and having us stay composed," Orlina said. "That helped us out tonight."
Woodside will be in action again on February 15th in the semifinals of the conference tourney. They get a bye for the opening round and so will Kecoughtan, the #2 seed at 16-6 overall and 8-2 in the conference.
"We've got a lot more goals ahead of us. I'm just trying to push my guys in practice, let them know what our big goal is, which is a State Championship. It was a goal last year, but it's changed now and seems more real."
Player of the Game: Woodside F Chris Orlina - - How Orlina got his 29 points is what separates him from most prospects around the State in the Class of 2016. Showing off his skillset and versatility as an inside-outside threat, he shot 10-of-16 from the floor, hit a three-pointer to go with a couple of dunks, made 8-for-11 from the foul line and grabbed 11 rebounds while recording four blocks and three steals.
"Chris started fast and played great the whole night. He was unbelievably consistent and is just an absolute great kid to coach," commented Mays. "That's a heck of a line in a game like this. Our team needs him to be like that, and when he is, we're special."
There was nothing selfish about Orlina's game either. When the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, he scored eight points and only missed one shot while converting all four of his free-throws. Defensively, his presence around the hoop was felt with Kecoughtan only scoring two baskets inside the arc in the final quarter, each of which came in transition.
It was Orlina's energy plays, such as rejecting a shot, pulling in a tough rebound or throwing down a dunk like he did off a miss to put the icing on the cake that hyped the rest of his team.
"Coach always stresses to me that it's a blessing the talents I have, and that I'm a leader. My teammates feed off of me," added Orlina, who sees improvement in his game this season. "I think it's been growing up, getting more mature and taking adversity a little bit better from last year. I'm also looking to get my teammates involved and just play hard every night."
Keys to Victory:
#1 - - Ride Orlina: Last year when these two squads met, Kecoughtan had the best player on the floor in one Rajay Bullock, who's now playing his College Basketball at Providence. Playing essentially the same position in the front-court that Orlina does, Bullock was a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. That is what Orlina is becoming, and it was evident that Woodside's offense would go through him in tense moments.
Now, the Wolverines are much more comfortable with that being the case, and Orlina's performance generally is a great barometer for how they will fare.
"Playing at this level, around this area in the 757 as a freshman, I don't care how talented you are, it's not an easy concept," Mays pointed out. "It's not easy to do and just when you start getting comfortable, a couple of rough spots hit and you don't know where to turn. Chris has a much better point of reference, which I think is allowing him to be a little more consistent, his attitude is greater and when he's playing great, we're usually playing great."
Late in the first half and during much of the third quarter when the pace got frenetic, Woodside applied pressure by pushing the ball and going to the hoop. Often it came off a miss and their defense started to crowd Tabb's space better, plus didn't let Kecoughtan settle into their 2-3 matchup zone that they turned to early in the third quarter.
"We might be a little inconsistent offensively, but we have some definite plans and philosophies of the things we want to do at the defensive end," Mays said. "I really think that was the difference tonight."
By holding Kecoughtan to 3-of-23 shooting from downtown, Woodside had numerous run-outs off long misses. And by playing an up-tempo game, Woodside wore down a Warriors team that relies heavily on its starting five to score, as evidenced by the Wolverines' whopping (and somewhat misleading given that Woodside's reserves in this game are normally starters) 60-0 advantage in bench points.
For example, take the critical steal and basket by Woodside 6-foot-1 junior guard Ray Jackson that pushed the lead to four with 1:30 to play. Another crucial field goal came at the 1:02 mark when Rashaan Johnson's deuce, his only one of the entire second half, stretched the advantage to five, making it a two possession game.
In addition to the superb output of Orlina, Woodside's cast around him with Jackson, Johnson, sophomore point guard and D-1 prospect Devante Carter, junior guard Jalen Cross and freshman small forward Taqwain Drummond all made things happen at different points in the ballgame.
"Cross and Jackson, those guys have been playing since they were freshmen. They have a lot of experience at that varsity level to be juniors," Mays noted.
"We're really counting on Devante and he runs our team in terms of getting up the floor, handling all that pressure and exerting pressure. We've got another freshman out there, Taqwain Drummond, who for some reason is really flying under the radar and I'm not quite sure why."
Wolverines 66: (19-3; 10-0)
Kecoughtan Warriors 57:
Matthew Hatfield serves as State Basketball Analyst for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him every Saturday from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.
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