Lakeland boys headed to states
By Matthew Hatfield
The Lakeland Cavaliers have been building for the moment that came their way on the final Saturday of February 2020 at the Norfolk Scope.
One week after notching their first regional playoff victory under eighth-year head coach, Clint Wright, the Cavaliers faced a do-or-die, win-or-go-home elimination game against the top-seeded Hopewell Blue Devils in the Region 3A Tournament.
Lakeland got off to a sluggish start, making only one of their first five three-point attempts and committing nine turnovers through a five-point opening quarter. At the half, they trailed 26-16. But in the second half, the Cavs seized the moment and rallied for a thrilling 61-58 victory in the regional semifinals to punch their ticket to the state tournament.
“I didn’t think the game would start that way. I knew there would be some nuances we’d have to deal with, like for one, you’ve got a longer court. We had never played in this environment before,” Coach Wright said of his squad adjusting to the bright lights and big stage.
In the second half, his team composed of nine seniors played with a purpose and desperation of a team that can win it all.
“I think the thing that helped us was the Southeastern District play. I think playing against the Oscar Smiths, the King’s Fork twice, Nansemond River and others, those schools prepared us for this now,” Wright said.
“Even though being 10 points at half-time, we felt like we were still in the basketball game because we were getting shots. I had some choice words for them and said, ‘Hey, are we ready for this to end at this time?’ They chose that it wasn’t going to end at this time.”
Serving as the spark to their comeback was none other than Wright’s son, senior guard Clint Wright Jr. After a dismal first half, he scorched the nets at the Scope, making five three-pointers in the third quarter alone and finishing with a game-high 19 points.
“We’ve been wanting this (since) when we lost to them by 20 sophomore year, so it’s basically like a get-back. We were a little sluggish in the first half, but we came through and got the win,” Wright Jr. said.
“My dad challenged me at half-time. He let me know I didn’t hit a shot, and I told myself that I’ve got it this; I’ve just got to keep shooting. I had confidence in myself.”
Wright’s fourth three-pointer with 1:27 left in the third period tied the score ,and his fifth only 32 seconds later gave them a lead they didn’t relinquish.
Another contributing factor to Lakeland’s win was their 14-of-15 shooting from the foul line.
“I reward those guys for making those free-throws. That’s something we hadn’t done very well throughout the regular season,” Wright Sr. said. “That was one attribute we had tried to focus on all season, and it showed up at the right time.”
Raymond Bellamy filled the stat sheet with 12 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.
“Raymond sacrifices so many points, but he does so many things for us well,” Coach Wright added. “He’s at about 700 points, plus he has over 400 rebounds, over 200 assists and more than 100 blocks, including all the ones he had tonight. That’s a player who’s tough to replace.”
Keimari Artis chipped in 12 points, bringing him to 998 for his career. He will get a chance to surpass the milestone — which Clint Wright Jr. did earlier in the week — in Tuesday’s Region 3A Championship at the Scope.
“With King’s Fork winning earlier in the week, and then our girls setting the tone for us, we felt like we had to win by at least one point. We did just that, and it is a relief,” Wright Sr. said.
“It’s an overwhelming experience. The school deserves this, and I couldn’t think of anything better for us in Suffolk than Lakeland playing in the state championship, and King’s Fork playing in it right after that at VCU.”
Lakeland faces Petersburg, who knocked them out of the regional quarterfinals a year ago, for the Region 3A crown next.
“The support from Suffolk is irreplaceable,” Wright Jr. said. “It’s love from everywhere I know and appreciate everybody coming out to support us. We’ve been through a lot of adversity, and I’m so glad we got this win.”