King’s Fork moves to 2-0

Published 9:53 pm Monday, December 9, 2019

By Matthew Hatfield


Before the season even started, many viewed the King’s Fork boys basketball team as a serious contender for the Class 4 state title in 2019-20. Through two games, they’ve more than lived up to those expectations, hanging 111 points on the board in a blowout of city rival at Nansemond River in front of a capacity crowd, then following that up with another quality win less than 24 hours later.

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On Saturday, the Bulldogs traveled to Virginia Beach to take on defending Class 6 State Champion Landstown in the Princess Anne Tip-Off Classic. Despite trailing 17-16 after one quarter of play, the Bulldogs quickly took control in the second period, never falling behind after that. King’s Fork ended up holding on for the 68-66 win over one of the best programs Hampton Roads has to offer.

In a game that was called tight throughout, Landstown was plagued by foul trouble, committing 30 of the game’s 52 fouls. Two Eagles ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter.

“We knew it was going to be physical,” said King’s Fork Coach Rick Hite. “They’re a physical team and they get into you. They’re so long that they limit you to one shot. What we wanted to do was the same thing to them; try to limit them to one shot.”

“It was a dogfight, and we were able to make a few more plays than them.”

Helping them make those plays was point guard Jayden Epps. Showing why he’s one of the nation’s top prospects in the Class of 2022, Epps followed up his 46-point barrage from the night before against the Warriors with another splendid outing.

“My teammates kept finding me. I kept trust in them, and they kept trust in me,” Epps said of his success. “We locked up on defense, and that created the offense for us. We pride ourselves on defense. If we play defense, that’ll win us the game.”

Epps finished with 36 points, including 11-of-13 from the foul line, with eight rebounds and five assists against Landstown. Even a hard tumble to the floor late in the second period couldn’t keep him down. He had 14 of his team’s 15 third-quarter points.

“It’s great to have a point guard like that,” said Bulldog Tyler Chatman, who had two crucial fourth-quarter three-pointers. “He gets to the rack a lot and finishes, so when he does that, the defense collapses.”

As Landstown’s own talented sophomore — Donald Hand Jr. — scored 31 points, it was Epps who seemed to be in control of the game’s flow from start to finish.

“Jayden’s a gamer. He understands the game and is very skilled, but one thing that people don’t talk enough about I believe is his basketball IQ, which is through the roof,” Hite said. “He’s also an unselfish kid. I believe he can do whatever we need him to do, and he’s willing to take that role. He didn’t want to leave here with anything but a W.”

King’s Fork’s rapid place of play is already having a major effect. It’s something they hope becomes their forte in an effort to wear their opponents down.

“That’s the goal. We’re going to play through some mistakes. We talk about, ‘Don’t compound the mistakes. Go get it back,’” Hite said.

“It was an emotional game the night before, so we had to reach back down inside and pull a little extra from the tank. We’ve got the depth. We bring the guys to the party, so we expect them to play and bring us something.

“I believe wholeheartedly we have four 20-point scorers. Whether they get it is yet to be seen. Then we’ve got tough guys inside, so it allows them to play free and shoot their shots because they’ll get the rebounds.”

While King’s Fork finished a victory shy of the Class 4 state tournament a season ago, this group might evoke visions of their 2008-09 team that finished 31-1 overall on their way to the AAA Virginia Championship.

“We defend much better than (last year),” Chatman said. “We’re long, athletic, and like to run, so it should be a lot of fun games ahead.”

Hite’s biggest challenge will be reminding them that it’s a long way until March.

“We can’t get too ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to play one possession at a time and trust each other,” he said. “We have seven guys who are 10th grader or lower, so we are young. We’re going to have some hurdles. We’ve just got to stay connected and keep pushing through.”