Warriors lose a heartbreaker

Published 10:51 pm Friday, February 24, 2012

By Matthew Hatfield

In the playoffs, only one team is truly all smiles at the end, and that’s the one that wins the championship.

The Nansemond River Warriors had hopes and dreams of being that team as they caught fire at the right time going into the postseason, winning 10 of their last 11 games entering the Norfolk Scope on Thursday night for their Eastern Region Tournament quarterfinal matchup with the Hampton Crabbers.

Nansemond River High School senior point guard Dontrell Brite shoots a fading jumper against the Hampton High School Crabbers during Friday’s 62-56 loss in the quarterfinal round of the Eastern Division championship tournament. The Warriors led by as many as nine points, but could not hold back a fourth-quarter charge by the Crabbers.

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Leading the Peninsula District regular season champions by nine points with 7:26 remaining in the game, Nansemond River looked to be well on its way toward that goal. Within a matter of minutes, though, the lead had evaporated, and Hampton stunned the Warriors with a 19-4 run to end Nansemond River’s season in gut-wrenching fashion, 62-56.

“We had breakdowns on defense, and that led to breakdowns on offense,” Nansemond River coach Ed Young said. “The turnovers hurt us, a little crazy shot selection hurt us and Anthony Barber definitely hurt us. I never felt comfortable with a nine-point lead, because Barber was out there and he was going to handle the ball.”

Regarded as one of the nation’s top prospects from the Class of 2013, Barber led the way for Hampton in its comeback with a game-high 21 points — seven in the fourth quarter — as well as eight rebounds and three steals.

Nansemond River trailed 20-16 at the end of the first quarter, but took the lead at the 6:18 mark of the second quarter on a Dontrell Brite three-pointer. The Warriors went on a 14-2 run in the second period to claim a 30-22 advantage with 3:48 remaining in the half. Hampton would slice into that lead going into intermission and had a chance to tie it at the horn, when John Joyce rejected a Barber shot as the buzzer sounded with the Warriors still ahead by a count of 33-31.

The third quarter belonged to Nansemond River as Brite put on an impressive display, scoring in transition, showing off his slick handles and throwing down a dunk. He outscored the great Barber 8-2 in the quarter, and the Warriors took a 47-41 lead into the fourth period.

That advantage grew on jumpers from senior guard Shannon Evans, whose second three-pointer of the night made the score 52-43 in favor of the Warriors. From there, things started to go the Crabbers’ way.

After a jumper by Jay Melendez with 4:43 to play made the score 54-47 in favor of Nansemond River, Hampton would score 15 of the contest’s final 17 points. Nansemond River committed two costly turnovers in the final three minutes, which Hampton converted into scores, and the Warriors also missed a pair of one-and-one opportunities at the free-throw line.

Jordan Baker’s three-pointer with 1:10 to play put Hampton in front, and then Baker stole the ball from Brite moments later, leading to a Crabbers lay-up and three-point advantage.

“When Dontrell lost that ball and they went down and scored, that really was a momentum changer,” Young admitted. “The air kind of came out of us, and we were climbing out of a hole at that point.”

Brite finished with 17 points, seven assists and five steals. Evans added 12 points. Melendez chipped in seven points and five boards, and Joyce put up six points, 12 rebounds, six blocks and three steals.

Despite the loss, the Warriors accomplished a lot this season. That includes their first Southeastern District Tournament title since 2007, a third straight appearance in the regional quarterfinals at the Scope and a 21-5 overall record.

Young reminded his players that they shouldn’t hang their heads and can reflect on some of the positives.

“I told the kids to take some time to think about it, especially the seniors, because they’ve had a heck of a run. We’ve had back-to-back 20-win seasons, three years in a row coming here and we’re the only team in the region to make it here to Scope three straight years. To me, that means something, because there are some people who don’t think we’re any good, yet we keep coming back here and keep winning 20-plus games. We took Hampton to the wire, but they won,” Young said.