Do the King’s Fork boys and girls basketball teams have it in them to win state championships? ‘For sure.’

Published 10:40 pm Friday, February 25, 2022

King’s Fork coach Rick Hite expected Sam Brannen to have a big game, and his unheralded junior guard delivered.

Brannen led the Bulldogs with 32 points as they defeated Manor 76-53 in the Region 4A boys basketball semifinal. The win means King’s Fork once again will play in the Class 4 state tournament.

“He’s a killer, the most underrated guard in the state of Virginia,” Hite said. “I said it, I mean it, and it is what it is. He’s a strong attacking player that can get you at all three levels — he can drive it, he can shoot it — and I told him, ‘This is going to be your night. You were built for this.”

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Hite wanted his team to know the Mustangs were going to go at them hard, and they needed to play with focus. He was looking for tough defense and “to be one point better than them.”

The Bulldogs delivered.

“He told us that they were going to be scrappy, that we needed to lock it on the defensive end and to put a chip on our shoulder,” Brannen said. “And our defense led to a lot of the easy buckets that we got. We really didn’t have to run a lot of stuff today.”

The Bulldogs shared the state title with Manor in 2020 after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic compelled the Virginia High School League to call off the championship game, and they didn’t play last season as the virus raged.

This season, it has been King’s Fork (22-0) that has raged through its opponents, and for the second time in February, it put the clamps on Manor (16-7).

But the semifinal win wasn’t about beating the team it hoped to play for a state championship in 2020. It was about continuing the path toward a 2022 title.

“It was Churchland the other night, Manor this night, it’s like a repeat of a couple of years ago,” Hite said, referring to its 89-42 Region 4A quarterfinal win over Churchland earlier in the week. “It’s the same teams we’ve got to face to try and win this thing. And those Portsmouth kids, they’re different type of kids, so we knew what it was going to be. We were going to have to play them at some point. It’s just one of those games to get to the state playoffs. It was a battle.”

Two years ago, King’s Fork started its playoff run with a win over the Truckers and beat Manor in the region final. This year, they’ll have to top Jamestown to be region champions again (That game, and the King’s Fork girls’ Region 4A championship game against Manor, took place Friday after press time).

But they had to get past the Mustangs, who rallied from 17 points down to close the Bulldogs’ lead to six late in the third quarter. Brannen scored the last six points of the quarter to give King’s Fork a 51-39 advantage going into the final eight minutes. Manor cut the lead again to six, but could get no closer as the Bulldogs pulled away.

Hite, as he saw Manor inch closer and he had several players on the bench in foul trouble, implored his team to stop fouling.

“I felt like we were guarding them,” Hite said, “but then they would get fouls and get to the line and it would stop our momentum.”

Brannen said Manor was speeding up the tempo and forcing the Bulldogs into mistakes.

“We just had to slow it down a little bit because they started speeding us up, making careless turnovers,” Brannen said, “so we had to slow it down, really control the game, get it back in our hands and just go from there.”

Dating back to that fateful 2020 season, King’s Fork has won 27 straight games, doing it with a high-octane offense that averages 72.5 points per game and a suffocating defense that gives up just 43.6 points per game on average.

Just four of the Bulldogs’ 22 opponents this season have reached 50 points, and Manor had been the last team to do so. The Mustangs had been the only team to get to 60 on King’s Fork, but it didn’t Thursday.

“We can’t change what happened a couple of years ago,” Hite said. “All we can do is control what’s in front of us, and that’s play hard each possession, every day, every game, every quarter.

King’s Fork girls rolling

The girls’ basketball team at King’s Fork (19-3) has already reached the Class 4 state tournament, topping a stellar Smithfield team 71-65 Wednesday. The Packers had, to that point, lost just one game — that being to the Bulldogs, who, through their region semifinal game have not lost in their last 16 games since starting 3-3.

But for the second time this season, the Bulldogs took the game to Smithfield (22-2), though it faced a bigger challenge with a state berth on the line and playing on the Packers’ home court.

King’s Fork was led by Yasmine Brown’s 24 points and got 14 from Cyriah Griffin as it held off a late Smithfield rally.

Two of the losses by King’s Fork’s girls team were in a holiday tournament in Pennsylvania, the other came in its second game of the season against Norview.

The Bulldogs topped Great Bridge 76-37 in its opening region playoff game.

King’s Fork was to face Manor Friday at home for a chance to win the Region 4A title.

Can both boys and girls hoops teams at King’s Fork end up with a state championship?

“For sure,” Brannen said. “For sure.”

Don’t forget about Lakeland

Lakeland’s girls basketball team is also in contention for a berth in the state tournament.

In the Region 3B quarterfinal Wednesday, the Cavaliers (12-5) topped Southampton 76-14 after beating Colonial Heights 95-22 in their opening postseason game.

They were to play in the region semifinals against Lake Taylor at 3 p.m. Saturday at Scope in Norfolk, with the winner reaching the Class 3 state tournament and facing either Hopewell or New Kent in the region final.

The Cavaliers lost four of their five games in a five-game stretch after beginning the season 3-0, but have since rolled off eight wins in nine games. One of those losses in the mid-season stretch was to King’s Fork. Their only other loss? Also to King’s Fork in their last game of the regular season.

Lakeland, like all Suffolk public school teams, did not play last season due to the pandemic, but finished their previous season in 2020 with a loss to Spotswood in the state semifinals.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy falls in TCIS semifinals

The girls at NSA (17-6) won their first-round Tidewater Conference tournament game 57-26 over Hampton Roads Academy, but lost 44-34 to Steward in the Tidewater Conference semifinals Thursday.

Seniors Cammy Reid and Allyssa Waddy were named first-team All-TCIS, and Maren Council second team.

For the Saints’ boys, senior Jaden Freeman was named first-team all-conference and senior Brady Canfield second team.

On the track

The Nansemond River boys, coming off a Region 5A championship, were aiming to fare well at the Class 5 state championships in Virginia Beach, which were to take place Friday and Saturday.