KF upsets Landstown

Published 10:56 pm Friday, February 24, 2012

King’s Fork High School senior guard Carl Hailes drives down the court against the Landstown Eagles’ Jordan Roberson during Friday’s 53-51 win by the Bulldogs at the Norfolk Scope arena in the Eastern Division championship basketball tournament. The Bulldogs face Hampton High School in a semifinal matchup tonight at 7 p.m.

By Matthew Hatfield

Every year, there’s a Cinderella team that goes an improbable, dramatic run through the NCAA basketball tournament.

King’s Fork High School is trying to be that team this year at the high school level. The third-seeded Bulldogs’ latest triumph, a 53-51 upset of Beach District champion Landstown, has them in tonight’s Eastern Region semifinals at the Norfolk Scope.

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“It was a big win for us, because we’ve had a rocky season and a lot of injuries,” King’s Fork senior guard C.J. Hailes said after he and his teammates snapped the Eagles’ 15-game winning streak. “We just learned to play through it and stay as a team. Coach always tells us to keep believing, even when people doubt us. We’re trying to keep proving people wrong and play hard.”

Hailes’ stat-line of seven points, two rebounds and two steals won’t look extraordinary, but his two free-throws with 17 seconds were, enabling King’s Fork to put Landstown away.

“For the second game in a row, he made a big three and made some free throws,” King’s Fork coach Josh Worrell said. “Free throws win ball games. We try to go at least 15-for-20. We didn’t shoot as well as I thought we should, but they were 7-for-17 from the free-throw line . . . we’re lucky.”

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. However, King’s Fork was both on Thursday night.

In a nip-and-tuck, back-and-forth battle that featured 11 ties and eight lead changes, King’s Fork (18-8 overall) responded to every challenge. The Bulldogs never trailed by more than five points, seeing their largest deficit at the 4:22 mark of the first quarter. King’s Fork went on to score seven of the next nine points to knot the score at 14 entering the second period.

At the half, the score was tied at 26 and seven different players had scored for the Bulldogs. It stayed close, with King’s Fork up a point going into the fourth quarter. Having played so many close games and quality teams all year, they felt confident about winning as long as they executed versus the press and closed out defensively on Landstown’s perimeter weapons.

“Landstown’s a great team. They move the ball, and they’re really disciplined,” Hailes said. “We just had to stay disciplined on defense, contest the shooters and rebound.”

Throughout the course of the game, King’s Fork relied on its half-court defense and rebounding. The activity of the Bulldogs’ front court gave Landstown problems, and in particular 6-foot-5 senior forward Zach Johnson.

Coming off a 22-point, 14-rebound performance in Monday’s first round win over reigning two-time State Champion Norcom, Johnson had another double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds versus Landstown. He also had three assists and four steals.

“I think we did a good job of contesting their shooters. We knew who they were,” Worrell said. “I think we did a better job in the second half of them getting less offensive rebounds. They killed us in the first half on offensive rebounds. We try to limit ourselves to under 10 turnovers a game, but I knew this game we were going to have a little bit more, because they press every possession.”

King’s Fork overcame 16 turnovers thanks to their defense and the lift they got from their reserves, particularly Rod Parrett, Trevon Wiggins and Donte Ralph. That trio combined for 22 points — 20 more than what Landstown got from its bench.

Parrett’s three makes from three-point territory all came at critical junctures in the game, the last to give KF a 46-43 lead midway through the fourth quarter, and Wiggins was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. Johnson was able to make 3-of-4 at the foul line in the closing seconds, and Landstown never got a shot to tie it from there.

King’s Fork’s opponent on Saturday night in the regional semifinals at 7 p.m. at the Norfolk Scope will be the Peninsula District champion Hampton Crabbers, who eliminated Nansemond River 62-56 in Thursday night’s other quarterfinal.

For the Bulldogs, a victory would secure the program’s third state tournament berth in five years. King’s Fork’s players want to extend the legacy started by the ones who came before them.

“We’ve had a lot of people like Jaquon Parker and Davante Gardner gone on to play D-1 (college basketball),” Hailes said. “They all played through this, paved the way for us, and we want to keep what they started going. It’s a great learning experience for the younger guys, too. We’re trying to show them where they can be through hard work.”