King’s Fork exacts revenge on Churchland
By Matthew Hatfield
A year ago, the King’s Fork Bulldogs had their state tournament dreams halted a win short when the Churchland Truckers defeated them 60-52 to knock them out of the regional semifinals.
One year later in their very gym, King’s Fork played host to a dangerous seventh-seeded Churchland squad in front of a packed house at The Kennel, but this time the Bulldogs were determined for a different outcome.
King’s Fork outscored the visiting Truckers in three of the game’s four quarters, including by a count of 24-20 in the final frame to pull away for a 90-79 victory that puts them back in the regional semis and one step away from the VHSL Class 4 state playoffs.
“You’ve got to buckle down late in the game. You’ve got to get stops and you’ve got to execute. It’s something we talk about all the time,” King’s Fork Coach Rick Hite said afterward. “We pride ourselves in being able to get stops, and I thought we did that in being able to hold them off throughout.”
Leading the way was sophomore point guard Jayden Epps, who scored 20 of his game-high 31 points before halftime. The game brought the career point total for Epps to 999.
Most importantly, as the game was winding down and Churchland had cut a 15-point deficit down to just two at 66-64 in the fourth quarter, Epps found his teammates — sophomores Bravion Campbell and George Beale — for key baskets. He also had six rebounds and five assists to go with his usual high scoring.
“In the playoffs, you have to play like that,” Hite noted. “They expect you to score. When you get the chance to make the right basketball play, good basketball players make the right basketball play — whether it’s shooting, dumping it off, bringing two towards you or moving the basketball. It’s part of his growth and maturity as a basketball player.”
Another thing Hite was glad to see was how his squad reacted to the zone defense the Truckers threw at them. King’s Fork jumped out to a quick lead, shooting 60 percent from the field both in the opening quarter and first half. They finished 7-of-19 behind the three-point line.
“We see some type of zone everywhere we go,” Hite said. “We knew it was coming, and I told our guys to shoot the basketball, rebound and play aggressive against the zone. People throw different junk defenses at us. You just have to be aggressive and rebound if you do miss.”
Tyler Chatman was the biggest beneficiary of the zone, with 24 points, including a perfect 13-of-13 from the foul line.
“Part of being aggressive is you get teams in the penalty early. If you get them in the penalty early, you get the opportunity to step to the stripe and make free-throws. We have good guard play, and good guard play at this time of the year can take you a long way,” Hite said.
“Part of being a good guard is getting to the line and making them. Tyler’s sneaky quick, but he also has high basketball IQ, so he knows when to use the head-fake and when to pull up.”
In addition to Chatman and Epps, the Bulldogs had two others in double-figure points, as Campbell scored 15 and Beale chipped in 13 to go with eight rebounds. Churchland committed 30 fouls, and the Bulldogs finished 29-of-40 from the charity stripe.
At 20-3 overall, the second-seeded Bulldogs take on a third-seeded Menchville squad — which eliminated Lake Taylor 72-61 in another quarterfinal in Suffolk on Monday night — in Wednesday’s regional semifinals held at 6 p.m. at Smithfield High School. It’s a matchup many anticipated would take place before the 2019-20 campaign even got under way.
“We kind of have been eying each other all year,” Hite admitted of two teams that began the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state in Class 4 by the VirginiaPreps.com rankings. “Both coaches are fiery, and we expect a lot from our players. The team that puts forth the best effort will probably come away with the victory. We were going to have to play at some point, and here it is.”