Last-ditch defense puts Bulldogs into final four

Published 10:38 pm Saturday, March 7, 2009

Down to eight minutes left in its season on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the VHSL State Tournament, King’s Fork reversed a nine-point deficit to George Washington-Danville by holding the Eagles to no field goals and two points in the fourth quarter for a 60-53 win.

The Bulldogs (29-1) reached the final four of the Group AAA tournament by overcoming a hot-shooting start by GW-Danville and their leading scorer fouling out with 2:39 to go.

Down 51-42 going to the last quarter, it wasn’t a lightning-fast run which brought the Bulldogs back into the game.

Email newsletter signup

A three-pointer by Jamar Wertz, KF’s only three-point basket of the game, then a 2 of 3 trip to the line by Wertz, cut the Eagle lead to 51-49 with 5:21 left.

Despite being within a possession, it took almost three more minutes until a free throw by Jaquon Parker tied the game, 52-52.

On the ensuing GW-Danville possession, Parker, who averages nearly 19 points a game and was named Eastern Region MVP earlier in the week, fouled out on a call all the Bulldog faithful thought should’ve been called against KF’s Chris Hearn.

“We’re not going to talk about it because the kids fought through it and persevered,” said KF head coach Joshua Worrell.

Despite losing the regional MVP, the Bulldogs took the lead on their next possession with Jay Copeland getting a rebound and a put-back in the paint.

As the Bulldogs did through the whole fourth period, defense continued to save the day. Two more stops by the Bulldogs took the game to the foul line in the final 0:32.

Prior to the final 32 seconds, KF was 13 of 27 (48.1 percent) at the foul line. Davante Gardner and Hearn combined to make six straight to close out the comeback victory.

Through the first three periods, the Bulldogs, practically the home team at Churchland High School, rarely had the momentum.

The Eagles, behind hot perimeter shooting, bolted to a 14-4 lead. A steal and dunk by Hearn, then a Hearn steal which led to a jumper by Parker, brought KF within 16-11. The Eagle shooting cooled and KF was largely fortunate to be down only 18-13 after a quarter.

The Bulldogs fought back to a 19-19 tie two minutes into the second period before GW-Danville’s shooting returned.

Jerail Howerton, a 5-foot-8 guard, led the charge, draining three outside jumpers for seven points. Howerton led GW-Danville with 10 points in the half and the Eagles led 31-26.

GW-Danville, unlike nearly every other opponent to face King’s Fork this season, committed only two turnovers and outrebounded KF 19-13 in the half.

The teams traded punches through the third period. KF got within a basket twice on baskets in the post by Copeland, but both times, the Eagles answered with hoops from sophomore C.J. Barksdale.

Barksdale, a 6-foot-7 sophomore who has recruiting interest from the likes of North Carolina and Wake Forest, made a three-pointer for the first basket of the game, but was then scoreless until scoring eight points in the third period.

An 18-foot pull-up jumper by Howerton at the horn gave GW-Danville a 51-42 lead and seemingly a full dose of momentum again going to the fourth.

Wertz, who finished with a team-high 17 points, along with seven rebounds, “willed the team to win,” said Worrell. Wertz’s five-point spurt was the first big chance Bulldog fans had to get loud and turn Churchland into a home court.

“We kept saying this was not going to be our last game,” said Wertz about the huddle between the third and fourth periods. Worrell credited assistant coach Theotis Porter.

“I was drawing up a play and coach Porter told the guys something. He got them going.”

It was an offensive board and stick-back by Copeland which gave KF the lead just after Parker fouled out.

Then Gardner, with 0:32 left, and Hearn, with 0:16 left, both taking their first foul shots of the game, hit a pair each to push KF’s lead to 58-53.

Hearn, a reserve, also drew specific praise from Worrell for a “tremendous effort” defensively in the fourth quarter.

Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds. Parker had 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Copeland had seven points and 10 boards.Howerton led GW-Danville with 14 points and six assists.

King’s Fork’s opponent on Wednesday night, 9 p.m., in the semifinals at Richmond’s Siegel Center is No. 1 Petersburg. Petersburg (30-0) has been the top-ranked team in the state AP poll all season.

“This shows we can’t come out and have a slow start. We know Petersburg is a good team and we’ll have to firing on all cylinders,” said Wertz.

“We’ve got to go out and play from the start like it’s our last game,” said Worrell.

“We were killed on the boards. We gave them way too many second and third chances. If we do that against Petersburg, it’s going to be a dunk fest.”

Thanks to Saturday’s fourth quarter, the Bulldogs can get ready for Petersburg and one more game.