Saints fly past Eagles into finals

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 20, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Todd Harrell swished a pair of free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining as Nansemond-Suffolk Academy recovered from a lethargic start to defeat Tidewater Academy (TA) 41-39 in the opening round of the Academies Christmas Classic Friday evening at Isle of Wight Academy. The win moved the Saints to face the host Chargers in the title game, which was played Saturday night after press time (as was the NSA girls’ title game against the Lady Chargers).

Living up to their nickname, the Eagles swooped by NSA in the first half. As the Saints threw away one turnover after another and failed to follow their shots, TA, led by 11 points from Cameron Westbrook, charged to a 22-10 halftime lead, capped off by Westbrook stealing an inbound pass and banking home a shot from near-midcourt as the buzzer sounded.

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At halftime, &uot;Our coaches said we were playing good defense, but we’d given away some shots that we shouldn’t have,&uot; said Adam Gillette, held scoreless in the first half. &uot;We had to battle back.&uot;

They tried, but the Eagles continued to hover out of reach. Ryland Gwaltney drained a three-pointer and Harrell notched a three-point play, but Westbrook and Jack Savedge scored seven points in 67 seconds to get as far away as 29-16.

Gillette finally put some points on the board with a layup, and Gwaltney swished another three-pointer to cut the lead to eight. Gillette barged his way through the paint for another layup, but Drew Sledd and Valdas Sirutis scored to give TA a 33-23 lead with 2:28 to play in the quarter. The Eagles wouldn’t get another field goal for over eight minutes.

Willis Taylor hit a pair of free throws and Harrell a baseline jumper as the quarter ended with TA ahead 33-27. With the momentum finally in his team’s hands, Gillette sank his first three-pointer of the night from the left corner, and the lead was three with five minutes left.

Harrell and Westbrook hit one free throw each, and Kyle Jett broke through double coverage to score his second three-pointer of the night.

Westbrook sank another free throw, but Harrell and Gillette gave NSA its first lead of the game with three of their own, a 37-35 lead with three minutes to play.

Jett picked off an errant Eagle pass and fired to Harrell for a breakaway layup, but Westbrook completed a three-point play to get to 39-38 with 1:41 to go.

After each team called a timeout, Harrell was trapped in triple coverage under the basket, and he missed a layup. Sirutis drove the lane, but he was fouled by Gillette, who fouled out of the game. Sirutis made one free throw, and NSA called timeout with 17 seconds to play.

Taylor took the inbound pass, and suddenly fired to Jett on the right baseline. Jett tossed to Harrell under the basket. Harrell fumbled the pass, then snatched it up and went for a layup. He was creamed by two defenders, sending him to the foul line.

&uot;I wanted the ball at the end of the game,&uot; Harrell said. &uot;I always like being the one who wins it or blows it. We were going to win or go to overtime – not lose.&uot; Luckily, it was the former; he hit nothing but nylon on both shots for the final points.

TA inbounded, and Westbrook caught the ball at midcourt. He hurried into the paint as the clock ticked down, colliding with Ronald Ricks. The ball skittered away to Matt Pittman in the corner. He grabbed it and launched a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded, but it fell short, and Harrell yanked down the rebound.

&uot;I tried to take a cha-rge,&uot; Ricks said. &uot;I had my feet set. I was looking at the clock, hoping it would wind all the waydown.&uot;