Spotswood sophomore Khalil Davis drives to the basket during Friday’s regional final against Fort. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
PENN LAIRD – With Fort Defiance High School’s fans at their loudest after a 7-0 run, Hyrum Weiler elevated against 6-foot-5 defender Ian Jarvis for a layup and the foul, a play that instantly raised the decibel level even more from the opposite side of the gym.
Suddenly, Fort’s momentum was gone as the Trailblazers pushed ahead 52-47 on the three-point play with 3:12 left.
“It was exciting,” Weiler said. “I’ve never played in a game this big.”
Weiler erupted for 12 second-half points and led Spotswood with 18, as the Blazers held on for a 58-51 win over Fort on Friday night in the Region III, Division 3 championship game, which marked the fourth meeting between the two Valley District teams this season.
After junior guard Tucker McCoy and Weiler each converted high-pressure free throws in the final 22 seconds, the Blazer Crew – Spotswood’s student section – prepared to rush the floor and did so following the trophy ceremony, joining the team huddle around the hardware.
“Just clutch plays from our best two players,” SHS coach Chad Edwards said after the high-energy night with below-average shooting. “They’re our two headline names and they came through when it counted.”
Spotswood’s first regional title since 2008-09 came down to the little details, too – a deflection here, an assist there and a defensive gamble against a team of capable shooters.
“We rolled the dice and pressed them a little more than we have to this point,” Edwards said.
The Blazers (26-1), who had defeated the Indians (17-10) by an average of 17 points in three previous games, will play Martinsville (the Region IV runner-up) on either March 1 or 2 at James Madison University in the Division 3 state quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Fort will travel to face Abingdon – which beat Martinsville 72-47 for the Region IV title – at U.Va.-Wise. Times are to be determined.
“We’re going to be playing some great teams,” Weiler said. “During the regular season, we were able to beat teams by a lot, but I think those days are over, probably. So, it boosts our confidence that we can keep our composure when it’s such a close game.”
Adam Frazier did his best to keep SHS on pins and needles for as long as possible.
Facing a five-point deficit with 49 seconds left, Frazier didn’t appear to show much urgency initially but then knocked down a big 3-pointer at the top of the arc off a pass, prompting a Fort timeout with 26 ticks remaining.
“We came out and almost got a five-second count,” Leonard said of a near SHS turnover just after Frazier’s shot.
SHS made four straight foul shots and went 5-for-6 at the line down the stretch.
Senior forwards Austin Nicely and Jacob Garber led the Blazers to a 14-4 start, each converting a pair of shots. Weiler capped the early run with a coast-to-coast layup with 2:30 to go in the first quarter. It was the kind of start Leonard said he told his players they’d have to avoid.
“When you miss the easy ones, sometimes you don’t get any more opportunities,” said Leonard, pointing out that finishing has been a season-long problem for Fort. “… Spotswood’s a strong defensive team and they make you work for every basket that you get. That’s probably the difference between our two teams. We give up cheapies every now and again, and they don’t.”
But Fort scratched back into the game quickly to give Spotswood its third one-possession game of the season. Trevor Lam led the Indians with 12 points, Frazier added 10 and Fort’s bench outscored SHS’s 13-3, including a conventional three-point play from Parker Glenn followed by a pair of Wyatt Smith free throws that cut the deficit to 49-47 with 3:32 left.
Though Jarvis had only four points, he pulled down a game-high nine rebounds and changed the game with his 6-foot-5 frame, blocking five shots. But it wasn’t quite enough.
“They’re the one team that we play that plays hard like us,” Weiler said of Fort. “When you have a team that plays that hard and wants to win that bad, crazy things can happen.”