Tuesday’s contest at Herndon High School had the makings of a championship game. Herndon, champion of the Concorde District, was up against W.T. Woodson, a 21-win squad considered by some to be the best team in the Northern Region. Faithful fan bases from both sides amplified the game’s importance by turning the modest gym into a hectic cauldron of noise.
Yet this was only a quarterfinal matchup. Woodson’s 57-54 loss against Lake Braddock in the semifinal of the Patriot District tournament rendered it a regional two-seed, plopping the Cavaliers onto the same side of the region tournament bracket as the Concorde team they had beaten, 63-61, back in December.
Woodson got the best of the Hornets again Tuesday night, this time winning by a more comfortable margin of 85-74. Senior guard Michael Hansler led the Cavaliers with a career-high 23 points, including 17 in the second half.
“[Herndon has] a very strong atmosphere,” Hansler said. “You just have to bring the intensity and effort, and that’s what we did throughout the course of the game.”
Hansler, the team’s only senior who has played varsity since his sophomore year, knifed his way down the lane for several tough baskets in the paint, at times seeming to score at will late in the game.
He even had a noticeable impact on the action while he sat on the bench. After trailing much of the second half by double digits, Herndon went on a run midway through the fourth quarter to cut its deficit to 68-63. Hansler then came off the bench with under four minutes to play and quickly earned an and-1 basket on his first possession, extending Woodson’s lead to 71-63. Herndon would get no closer the rest of the way.
“Tonight to see him as a senior go out there and play like that was great,” eighth-year Woodson coach Doug Craig said. “He’s fought some injuries over the years and been a little inconsistent, but he’s really started to play well the last couple weeks, kind of giving us that fourth guy that’s really playing at a high level.”
The Cavaliers trailed Herndon 11-5 early in the first quarter, but they closed the quarter on a 15-2 run to grab a 20-13 lead. The Hornets never sniffed the lead the rest of the way, despite a season-high 38 points from senior guard Will Ferguson, the region’s leading scorer. Ferguson, who finished the season averaging 22.4 points per contest, notched 37 points against Woodson when the two teams met earlier this season.
“Will is a great, great player,” Craig said. “We couldn’t stop him. It seemed like the fourth quarter lasted forever... He got his [points]; we tried to do a good job on the other guys and limit them, and I thought we were able to do that.”
Ferguson did his best to overcome the 15-point deficit his team faced at the start of the final frame, but even his 16 fourth quarter points on 5 for 10 shooting weren’t enough. Woodson knocked down 16 out of 21 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the outcome.
The Cavaliers will play a 6:00 semifinal game Friday night against South County, which knocked off Chantilly, 74-57, on Tuesday. Woodson defeated its fellow Patriot District member in both meetings this season.
“South County’s playing really well. They’re a good team,” Craig said. “We’ve seen them twice this year. They’re very physical, very good along the front line and well coached. It’s going to be a battle. With two teams that know each other really well a lot of times it just comes down to who makes the least mistakes.”
Woodson is aiming to vanquish memories of recent playoff disappointments. A late-season injury sidelined Hansler in the playoffs last year, one of the reasons the Cavaliers followed their 20-3 regular season with a 1-2 postseason mark. With four out of five starters back from last year’s team, Woodson has the depth and experience necessary to fill a void for a program that has won 19 district titles but never tasted glory in the Northern Region Tournament.
To get there the Cavaliers will need to draw on their characteristic balance that comes from a wealth of capable weapons. Senior swingman Tommy Stepka leads the team with 13.9 points per game, but Craig’s rotation can fill it up from many directions. Against Herndon Tuesday, sophomore guard and Patriot District Player of the Year Eric Bowles put up 14 points, while senior forward Peter Murray tallied 12 and Stepka added 10.
“For us it could be any one of six or seven guys on a given night,” Craig said. “We’ve had six different guys get over 20 points in a game this year. We don’t really care who gets it. We just try to make sure we spread it around and get the win at the end of the night.”
Senior swingman Justin Hampton scored a team-high 22 points to power South County (11-16, 3-11 Patriot) to a regional quarterfinal win against Chantilly (18-8, 5-5 Concorde) Tuesday night. Oren Burks tallied 14 points for the Stallions, while Brandon Berry added 11.
South County entered halftime with a 43-22 lead after outscoring the Chargers 29-11 in the second quarter. Junior guard DeAndre Harris was the only Chantilly player to reach double figures, scoring a game-high 23 points.
Robinson came away from Lake Braddock’s boisterous home gym with a 46-43 quarterfinal win over their crosstown rival Tuesday night. The Rams defeated the Patriot District champions with sound defense and balanced scoring, led by 10 points apiece from Nick Bynum and Matt Fall.
Sophomore forward Reagan Jones led the Bruins (18-8, 10-4 Patriot) with 15 points, while junior forward Will Gregoritis chipped in 11.
Robinson (19-8, 6-4 Concorde) will face Wakefield in the regional semifinal at 8 p.m. at Robinson High, following the Woodson/South County contest.
Junior forward Re’Quan Hopson buried a last-second trey to give Wakefield a dramatic quarterfinal victory against Langley Tuesday night. Trailing 44-43, Hopson inbounded the ball with under five seconds to play, received a pass back and nailed the buzzer beater to send the Wakefield student section rushing onto the floor in celebration.
Khory Moore led the National District champions (23-4, 13-1 National) with a game-high 18 points, and Hopson added 13. Junior guard Garrett Collier paced Langley (20-6, 11-3 Liberty) with 13 points, while Justin Galiani notched 11 and Brad Dotson added 10.