Bulldogs fall at Oscar Smith

Published 11:03 pm Friday, February 1, 2019

By Matthew Hatfield


The King’s Fork Bulldogs traveled to Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High School on Friday night to take on the top-ranked team in the state of Virginia at the Class 6 level and in all of Hampton Roads.

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While Oscar Smith entered riding a 12-game winning streak, their lone loss came back on Dec. 18 by a count of 56-50 to the Bulldogs in Suffolk.

Fast forward 42 days later, and the two Southeastern District rivals produced another tight contest with a score nearly identical to the first meeting, except this time Oscar Smith rallied from an early double-digit deficit to defeat the Bulldogs, 56-51.

“They’re a good team, and a good team won’t go away, especially at home. We beat them the first time, and they had something to prove. You can tell why they’re one of the best teams in the state and ranked at the top in Division 6,” King’s Fork Coach Rick Hite said afterward.

King’s Fork got off to a strong start defensively, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Oscar Smith entered averaging 75.9 points per game and was held to just one basket with a minute left in the opening quarter as the Bulldogs built a 14-2 lead. Their game plan was to take away driving lanes and pack it in on the interior to limit the Tigers to one shot per possession.

Freshman guard George Beale helped control the backboards with six rebounds through eight minutes of play. But Beale would be sent to the bench in the second quarter when he picked up his third foul, and the momentum began to slowly shift towards the host Tigers.

“When Beale got into foul trouble, that hurt. He’s our second true scorer and we missed having that punch out there and it stifled us a little bit,” Hite said.

After the 1-of-14 shooting start, Oscar Smith made eight of their next 17 shots from the field to trim the King’s Fork advantage to five — 30-25 — by halftime.

In the second half, King’s Fork relied heavily on senior guard Keontae Boyette, who bunched seven of his 17 points into the fourth quarter and wouldn’t let his team go away quietly once their lead evaporated. Oscar Smith doubled up the Bulldogs 14-7 in the third period to go up 39-37. The Tigers scored seven of the first nine points in the final stanza.

King’s Fork struggled to finish at the basket against the taller front line of the Tigers, who rejected seven shots, six in the second half. Boyette’s three-point play with 45.3 seconds remaining trimmed the Oscar Smith lead to 51-48. Oscar Smith responded with a three-point play to push their advantage back up to six.

Junior shooting guard Tyler Chatman’s three-pointer with 27.7 seconds to play, followed by an Oscar Smith turnover, gave King’s Fork a chance for overtime. However, a step-back three-point shot by Boyette in the final seconds was off the mark, and Oscar Smith held on to improve its record to 18-1 overall.

Even though the defeat was bittersweet since an early 12-point lead disappeared, King’s Fork’s coach was encouraged by the spirit and energy his team played with at both ends of the court with the playoffs only two weeks away.

“I just told them in the huddle that I’m more proud of them tonight than any game all year, even the wins, because I felt the true connection with the boys,” Hite noted. “That can go a long way.”

At 14-5 overall, King’s Fork is battling with Grafton for the top playoff seed for Region 4A. If they’re able to close out the regular season on a high note — including two pivotal games against city rivals Nansemond River (Feb. 8 at home) and Lakeland (Feb. 12 on the road) — then they should be no worse than the No. 2 seed.

“We still have a lot to play for,” Hite said. “If you look at the landscape of 4A, we have as good a chance as anybody. So we’re chasing it.”