King’s Fork passes latest test

Published 9:09 pm Monday, December 23, 2019

By Matthew Hatfield


Through the first five games of the 2019-20 boys’ basketball season, the King’s Fork Bulldogs have taken on the look of a juggernaut. They averaged 89.4 points per game, outscoring those foes — four of which advanced in the postseason last winter — by more than 26 points a contest.

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Venturing into The Kennel on Saturday night was perennial private school powerhouse Cape Henry Collegiate out of Virginia Beach, a team that entered 5-1 overall and came in a fresh off an impressive 15-point win over Green Run.

King’s Fork proved to get all they could handle in a back-and-forth tussle, where neither team led by more than eight points. In the end, the Bulldogs prevailed, scoring six of the game’s final eight points for a 61-55 victory that moved them to 6-0 overall entering Christmas break.

“We expected it,” said King’s Fork Coach Rick Hite of the battle. “We want to play fast, but I also believe that we have tough kids who can execute in the half-court, and especially defend in the half-court. We knew it would be a four-quarter game and we just wanted to get stops when it mattered most.”

With the score tied at 53, Bulldogs sophomore sensation Jayden Epps had the ball in his hands. Given his high scoring outputs thus far, the Dolphins — like many in attendance — likely anticipated him taking the shot to try to put his team ahead. Instead, senior shooting guard Tyler Chatman rose to the occasion for King’s Fork in knocking down the go-ahead three-pointer.

“Cape Henry was actually in a 2-3 zone. Jayden had the ball up top, punched the gap, kicked it to me and I was open. I took the shot with confidence,” said Chatman, who scored 13 points and sank all three of his three-pointers in the fourth quarter, including one to break a 43-all tie at the beginning of the period.

“It’s not really any nerves. If you take the shot, you can make it. If you don’t take it, you don’t have a chance to make it. I’ve practiced those (situations) countless times in the gym and counting it down in my head.”

For Epps, who was held to a season-low 19 points, yet also managed to hand out six assists, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that his teammate would come through.

“I know I can rely on Tyler Chatman. He’s always been that guy to make open shots,” Epps said.

“They’re a tough team. They play defense and get stops. That challenged us, but we fought through adversity. Some games we’re going to play fast and run people out of the gym. We can also play the slow, steady game. People have been playing zone against us a lot. It’s all about pace and knowing how to play the game.”

Up three in the closing seconds, King’s Fork saw Epps make a couple of critical free-throws, a real plus considering the Bulldogs began just 2-of-6 in the fourth quarter at the line as the Dolphins stayed close.

Junior forward Quentin Livingston didn’t have his best night statistically against the length of defenders Bryson Spell (6-foot-9) and Greg Melvin (6-foot-7). Nonetheless, the charge he drew in the final minute proved to be pivotal in giving his team the ball back with the lead.

“The charge he took is everything that we need from him,” Hite said. “The kid is going to score and rebound, but to have him step in during the most crucial situation of the game and take a grown man charge says a lot about him and his willingness to buy into what we’re trying to do.”

Sophomore guard George Beale gave King’s Fork a lift off the bench with 14 points and eight rebounds. The Bulldogs managed to out-rebound Cape Henry 32-27 and forced them into 24 turnovers, three more than their total of 21.

The next goal for King’s Fork is to close out the 2019 calendar year by winning their annual holiday tournament that begins on Friday, featuring fellow Suffolk schools Lakeland and Nansemond River along with Class 6 John Champe from Northern Virginia.

“Here it is in December, we’ve challenged ourselves in the early part of the schedule,” Hite said. “We’ll challenge ourselves again in the middle part of the schedule all to make us better late in the season. We’ll look back on this and say we can win a game in the 50s if need be, or if it gets up in the 80s, we’d like to say we can get you, too.”