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March 1, 2014

Woodson Grabs Emotional OT Win

Final in 6A-North Region Tournament Semis:
Final - - #2 W.T. Woodson 63, #1 Herndon 62 (OT)

Cavs Win Wild One: Youthful exuberance. That's the way W.T. Woodson Head Basketball Coach Doug Craig summed up what happened in the closing moments of his team's thrilling 63-62 overtime win over Concorde Conference Champion Herndon to cap what has been a trying week for the students at his school.

"Herndon's a great basketball team with really good players that play hard. Our kids showed a lot of mental courage tonight and played their buts off," stated Craig.

The Woodson community and student body have been coping with the loss of two students that passed away. His players didn't learn of the second passing until after the games from their passionate, loyal student section referred to as 'The Cavalry.'

Ahead 62-59 late in overtime, Woodson fouled Herndon senior Brandon Alston (Lehigh) on a three-point shot with two seconds remaining. Alston hit the first two before missing the last one, which Woodson rebounded and was immediately fouled. With the game seemingly over - - or so they thought - - fans of the Cavaliers rushed the court to celebrate.

But 0.4 seconds remained, after the referees huddled, a Technical Foul was issued on the Woodson bench for the fans storming the court.

"By the book, I guess it's a technical foul. I kind of thought they should've used discretion in that situation, but it's a rule and it is what it is," Craig said. "It was a tough situation for us, but luckily the basketball gods were shining on us and it didn't end up deciding the game."

That gave Herndon another chance to win or potentially send the game to a second overtime. After Woodson split a pair of foul shots to push their lead up to 63-61, Herndon's Dorian Johnson went to the charity stripe, sinking the first. His second attempt was off the mark.

However, the Hornets still had a shot to win if they could convert a lob near the rim. They were unable to pull off a bucket at the horn, allowing W.T. Woodson and its fans to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

"We're talking about 16 and 17 year old kids who have been in a tough spot this week reacting with sheer emotion and it was one of those things where they thought the game was over. The Cavalry has been behind us for so many years and have helped us out of so many tough spots that the least we could is bail them back out and find a way to win the game," Craig remarked afterwards.

Star in Defeat: Finishing with a game-high 23 points was the aforementioned Alston, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who Hornets sideline boss Gary Hall coached at Middleburg Academy when he was a freshman. Midway through this season, Alston transferred to Herndon from Life Centry Academy in Burlington, New Jersey.

In the two playoff games prior to Friday night, Alston scored just nine points and didn't get to the foul line once. This time, he was a factor by consistently driving into the paint, scoring 11 points in the first half as Herndon built a 26-22 advantage.

"Alston definitely showed why he's a Division I player," Craig commented.

Fortunately for Woodson, they survived a 13-for-26 night from the foul line by Herndon that included Alston going 5-of-10.

Senior Rises to the Occasion: All year long, the star of the show for Woodson has been junior point guard Eric Bowles, twice named the Patriot District (or know more appropriately known as the Patriot Conference) Player of the Year. Earlier this season, he got in foul trouble in a 73-65 loss to the Hornets. The same happened in this game as he was whistled for two early fouls. That meant some of the offensive load fell on the shoulders of others.

Bowles ended up leading the Cavs in points with 14, but giving a surprising spark with a career-high 13 points was senior Michael Szabo. On the night, Szabo hit four three-pointers, none bigger than his two back-to-back with under four minutes to play in the fourth quarter that put Woodson ahead 50-45 when they were trailing by a point.

"He played like a senior. When you go on the road like this, sometimes you need a guy that will step up and make some shots for you," Craig noted. "Those guys work so hard in practice and we always stress to them to stay ready. Tonight was Michael's night to step up and he really came up big for us."

Junior Making Noise: Szabo wasn't the only sparkplug the Cavs got offensively. Junior guard Trey Johnson gave the team a lift off the bench with his aggressiveness and penetration via the dribble, effectively using his athleticism to get to the foul line.

"I thought we got a really good game out of Trey Johnson and he played well for us," Craig commented.

Johnson scored 11 points and was 7-of-12 at the foul line.

Board Work: All Championship teams can use a couple of guys that do the dirty work. For Woodson in their win over Herndon, those individuals were 6-foot-4 seniors Andy Stynchula and Jimmy McLaughlin. They finished with 13 rebounds apiece, aiding the Cavaliers greatly in out-rebounding the Hornets 49-33 for the contest.

"That was the one stat that was telling I felt. I don't think a lot of people would've expected that prior to the game being that they're probably a little more athletic of a team than we are. But we really dominated on the glass," Craig pointed out.

"They didn't score a ton of points, but they both controlled the backboards and we were able to keep them pretty much to one and done. That was one of our keys defensively to try to build a wall under the basket because they're a team that thrives on getting second shots."

Fourth Shot at the Bruins: One team has had W.T. Woodson's numbers this season and that is Lake Braddock. Coach Brian Metress' Bruins check in at 23-3 overall and riding a 13-game winning streak that included a comfortable 78-61 win over South Lakes in the other 6A-North Region Tournament semifinal.

Woodson's three losses to Lake Braddock on the campaign have been by a total of eight points. Last year, Woodson rallied from 19 down in the fourth quarter to force overtime and beat Wakefield, 75-70 in the Northern Region Championship. It might take an even strong performance to outlast Lake Braddock.

"They're really good, very well-coached, very good players, run a good system and they're a good team," admitted Craig. "We're going to have to play well, re-charge the emotional, play hard and battle against a big, physical team. We've been in position to win each of the three games and didn't finish it out. Hopefully, we'll be able to put ourselves in position to close it out this time."

Regardless of the outcome in the fourth meeting, Craig is happy that his team is headed back to the State Playoffs for a second consecutive year and knows ultimately that their Final Four game with either the 6A-South Champion Colonial Forge or runner-up Landstown is going to determine whether or not they play in the State Championship.

"I told everybody before the season that we might struggle early in the year, but by the end of the year I thought we were going to be a really good team," he reminded. "I think that's kind of played its way out because this was a really good team we just beat."

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 [email protected], and don't forget to listen to him every Saturday at 10AM on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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