W.T. Woodson’s historic postseason run came to an end in Richmond on Monday night at the hands of Central Region champion Henrico, which handed the Cavaliers a 75-65 loss in the Virginia AAA state semifinals.
The defeat concluded an unprecedented season for a storied Woodson program that, in spite of all its success over the years, had never advanced to the state tournament. The Cavaliers entered the season with 19 district championships to their name, but they finished it with the school’s first Northern Region title after staging an improbable 19-point fourth quarter comeback to beat National District champion Wakefield, 75-70, in overtime. That triumph was followed by a near wire-to-wire 65-52 win against Northwest Region runner-up Battlefield in the state quarterfinals, a victory that sent the Cavaliers to VCU’s Siegel Center Monday for the Virginia AAA final four.
“I think going into the season if we had said we would win the Patriot District regular season title by four games and win the Northern Region title and play at VCU in the state semifinals... Given that deal before our season started I think every kid in our locker room probably would have taken it,” Woodson coach Doug Craig said after Monday’s loss. “It’s the experience you want every kid to have... We’ve had a lot of success but really haven’t gotten down here before.”
Woodson (25-5) came out of the gates step-for-step with an athletic Henrico (29-2) team whose up-tempo style was perhaps faster than anything the Cavaliers had seen all season. Tied 17-17 after the first quarter, Woodson was ultimately undone by a second quarter in which Henrico caught fire from 3-point land and stormed to a 42-29 halftime lead. The Warriors buried seven of their nine 3-point attempts in the first half, leaving Woodson feeling helpless despite limiting their turnovers and shooting a respectable 46.2 percent from the field.
“I feel like we played good defense and contested mostly every shot they took,” said sophomore point guard Eric Bowles, who finished with 14 points. “We’re a three-point shooting team, so not being able to knock a shot down kind of affects your confidence. They just made everything.”
Senior forward Peter Murray shook off a rough first half with 10 points in the third quarter, capped by a buzzer beater from the top of the key that left Woodson trailing 52-48 heading into the final frame. Woodson’s Cavalry came alive in the stands at that point, shaking the Siegel Center with a huge student section that outnumbered Richmond-based Henrico’s fan base.
A pair of Michael Hansler (team-high 17 points) free throws cut Woodson’s deficit to 58-55 with just under five minutes to play, but the Warriors continued to have success attacking the basket and ended up growing their lead to 11 points with 43 seconds remaining.
Henrico coaches scouted Woodson during the Cavaliers’ comeback win against Wakefield in the region final, so they implored their team not to get complacent down the stretch.
“We were really worried about their three-point shooting,” Henrico coach Vance Harmon said. “I thought we did a good job of covering the perimeter. We felt like we did a nice job of contesting.”
Even with the loss fresh on their minds, the Cavaliers could take solace in the best season in the 50-year history of Woodson High.
“The run was great. We had season goals that we were able to achieve,” Murray said. “We left a history here. We have a legacy at Woodson now. Our book so to speak is closed now, but overall I think it was a successful year.”