Bulldogs bring plenty of bite as Suffolk team eye playoffs
Published 4:39 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023
By Matthew Hatfiled
The King’s Fork Bulldogs are blowing through the competition in the Southeastern District like few have done so before.
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Teams have gone unbeaten in Southeastern District play before, including last year’s Bulldogs. King’s Fork was a perfect 18-0 in district play in both 2008-09 and 2009-10. Nansemond River also went unblemished in league games at 16-0 in 2005-06.
But it’s hard to recall a team winning by the margins that this 2022-23 King’s Fork squad has, defeating its first 11 SED opponents by a whopping average of 31.6 points per game. Every victory has been convincing by double-figures with the closest call being a 68-50 triumph over Western Branch Dec. 16.
At home Feb. 10, the Bulldogs handled Western Branch 71-47 behind a near triple-double from senior guard Sam Brannen, who finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
“We’re still peaking,” said Bulldogs coach Rick Hite, who had a pretty good idea his team would be very competitive and balanced with several returnees from their squad that reached the state semifinals last March.
“We wanted to find out who we are as a team,” Hite said. “We knew we’d have good chemistry. We knew we had a lot of guys back and we’d be good defensively. We didn’t know how we’d go about our scoring. We’re finally finding out rotations with the first five, the next group in and so forth.”
The insertion into the starting lineup of 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Adarius Boston has paid dividends to the point where the Bulldogs are averaging 68.2 points per game and even more lethal offensively than before. It has enabled seniors such as Brannen, Ryan Hite and Kaleb Brown – along with rangy 6-foot-5 junior wing Zekhi Darden – to fill their roles to a tee.
“Boston being in the lineup earlier at the start of games gives us immediate scoring punch. Ryan has stepped up and been on a double-double streak, or right around there and close to it in several games. Sam has been a facilitator, scorer or whatever we’ve needed,” added Hite. “Kaleb is shooting the ball incredibly well. Then there’s Zekhi, who sometimes gets forgotten about, and that’s crazy. He does everything and he does it without needing praise, and the whole group is like that. That has been easy to coach. Elijah Walker, Dashawn Lucas and Bryson Barber give us a lot off the bench and would be starters at other places.”
King’s Fork is expected to leap ahead of Smithfield (18-5) for the top seed in the upcoming Region 4A Tournament.
Warriors, Cavaliers gearing up for postseason play
King’s Fork isn’t the only Suffolk basketball team gearing up for tournament action. Nansemond River recently clinched a berth in the Region 5B Tournament, which begin at Norview High School in Norfolk with quarterfinal games Feb. 21.
The Warriors – who entered their regular season finale vs. Western Branch with a 14-7 overall record – will either be the No. 5 or No. 6 seed. A win gives them the No. 5 seed. Their first round opponent will be either Woodside from Newport News or Maury of Norfolk, hinging on the outcome of Maury’s regular season finale vs. Eastern District rival Booker T. Washington Feb. 16.
As for Lakeland, the Cavaliers gained their sixth victory of the season by beating Hickory 59-36 and seventh when they defeated Deep Creek 63-54 Feb. 10 behind a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds from Ashton Holland-Lane.
Entering play on Feb. 14, Lakeland is positioned as the No. 9 seed with a power rating of 3.47, trailing Colonial Heights (3.5) and just ahead of York (3.05). The region tourney starts on Feb. 20 in Region 3A with the semifinals taking place on Sat. Feb. 25 at the Norfolk Scope and finals on Tues. Feb. 28.
- Two freshmen on the girls basketball side continue to put up huge numbers for Nansemond River. Jordin Richardson filled the stat sheet with 35 points, 10 rebounds and four steals in a 52-33 win over Oscar Smith. Fellow ninth grader Aaniyah Custis collected 10 rebounds in the victory. A 60-7 rout of Granby on Feb. 13 moved them to 13-8 overall.
- Lakeland’s girls edged Ocean Lakes 51-45 in a non-district matchup on Monday, Feb. 13 behind 19 points from Jaelyn Brown. That improved their overall record to 11-9.
- Cyriah Griffin continues her sterling play for King’s Fork’s girls, posting 23 points on Feb. 10 as the Lady Bulldogs doubled up SED foe Western Branch 64-32 The defending state champs should get a first round bye to the quarterfinal round for the upcoming Region 4A Tournament, where Manor of Portsmouth is projected to gain the top seed when the bracket is finalized later in the week.