Warriors lose heartbreaker at Scope

Published 10:13 pm Monday, February 25, 2019

By Matthew Hatfield


The Nansemond River High School boys’ basketball team went on an unexpected ride to the semifinals of the Region 5A Tournament this year, culminating in Saturday’s game at the famous Norfolk Scope Arena.

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Unfortunately for the Warriors, the ending was not the one they had hoped for, which would have been the program’s first trip to the state tournament since 2007. Instead, they were at the heart-breaking end of a buzzer-beating bank shot from just inside half court while the top-seeded Green Run Stallions celebrated an unforgettable 66-63 victory.

Making the game-winning shot was Beach District Player of the Year Ashley James, a 6-foot-3-inch guard who poured in 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field. Drawing interest from such colleges as Cincinnati, East Tennessee State, Norfolk State and VCU, among others, James had 13 of his points in the game’s final quarter to help the Stallions erase a 53-50 Nansemond River advantage with less than five minutes to play.

“I give credit to Green Run for holding their poise when we took the lead late. A.J. is a big-time competitor. He loves the spotlight and is as good as advertised, maybe better,” said longtime Warriors coach Ed Young.

With two minutes to play in the opening quarter and the game tied at 11 apiece, a serious leg injury occurred when Green Run sophomore guard Elijah Kennedy slipped going in for a lay-up. The game was delayed for several minutes, and both teams united at half-court in prayer with applause from the crowd before action resumed.

“It was tough to see,” Young said of the scary injury. “I don’t think it affected us either way, but the James kid upped his game after that, and this was the type of stage where a player of that caliber can do that and prove to be the difference in the end.”

Nansemond River trailed 15-11 at the end of one period yet didn’t let the Stallions pull away by halftime. Green Run’s lead was only five at 31-26. Then in the third period, things started to get away from the Warriors, as they fell behind 39-28.

“We didn’t play one of our better games, but Green Run had something to do with that. We had too many defensive breakdowns early and some key ones late,” Young added. “When we don’t score, we have some struggles on defense, and it showed against a very good team. We also rushed our execution too many times, but with all that said, my kids gave tremendous effort and came all the way back.”

Junior Justin Fatherly kept it from getting away from the Warriors, scoring 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line. He also got help in the form of 11 rebounds from senior Jeremiah Lewis, 10 points from Jalil Langston, plus timely baskets off the bench courtesy of guards Myles Evans and Rashaad Williams.

Jakari Joy’s basket with 5:05 to play had the Nansemond River fans on their feet as it appeared they might pull one of their biggest wins in recent memory over a Green Run team that entered 20-3 overall, ranked No. 5 in the state at the Class 5 level. Both teams traded key buckets and free-throws in the closing minutes. The Warriors went 23-of-29 from the foul line to hang tough, even tying the score with 3.7 seconds to play on a pair from senior point guard Jamal Boone.

Nansemond River’s season ends at 16-8 overall. Although it was a season of great personal difficulty for Young with the passing of his mom back in December, he expressed deep gratitude for how his coaching staff and plyers responded from a 3-4 start to achieve their first winning record since 2013-14 and deepest playoff run in 12 years.

“I’m very proud of each and every kid on this team,” Young said. “Our seniors helped put us back in limelight for high school basketball. Hopefully this experience will excite our returnees to keep us there.”