Blazers Top Fort, 74-59
PENN LAIRD – Fort Defiance basketball coach Larry Leonard has had a watchful eye on Spotswood High School’s Justin Kier this season, studying the standout sophomore guard on film. So when Kier emerged from a crowd for an acrobatic layup and subtly started sizing up the ensuing inbounds Thursday, Leonard wasn’t surprised what happened next.
Kier quickly stole the ball and dished it off to senior guard Tucker McCoy, whose layup gave the Trailblazers a 65-54 lead with 2:09 to go in the key Valley District game. Just like that, SHS stretched a seven-point lead to 11 in what became a 74-59 victory for the undefeated Blazers.
“He has a real knack of timing dribbles when he’s playing defense,” Leonard said. “I’ve watched him 100 times. He does it every game. … If you don’t change the rhythm of your dribble, he’s going to pick you.”
Kier scored 17 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, and McCoy added 19 as Spotswood swept its regular-season series against Fort Defiance in a rematch of the top-ranked teams in Conference 29.
After beating Fort 70-52 on Dec. 13 with a season-low points total, the Blazers (19-0) needed a 14-0 run in the second quarter to stake a 29-21 halftime lead. Ironically, that was the quietest quarter for Kier, who hit a kick-out 3-pointer from Khalil Davis during the run. Davis followed that play with a coast-to-coast layup on SHS’s next possession and then buried a triple of his own.
“I thought we were probably a little too keyed up in the game,” Leonard said. “We didn’t keep our composure really well at times.”
Kevin Saylor, a junior forward, capped the rally with a baseline jumper to give Spotswood a 29-16 lead with 2:59 left in the second quarter. Kier assisted on the final two field goals of the period in which SHS connected on five straight field-goal attempts.
“It seemed like, for a majority of the game, they kind of matched us punch-for-punch,” SHS coach Chad Edwards said. “We were able to put together a nice run there in the second quarter, and that was the one stretch during the game where we were able to string together multiple plays.
“But again, give Fort a lot of credit. They wouldn’t go away. I think we had them on the ropes a couple times and they seemed to answer with 3s in the second half.”
The Blazers, who made their last eight shots in the final four minutes to pull away, are one of three undefeated teams in the state and the only one left in Division 3.
“We’re not always going to make shots, but when we start making shots, it’s really hard to guard,” Kier said.
Though the series has been one-sided, with SHS winning six straight times and eight of the last 10 meetings, the SHS-Fort rivalry continues to pick up steam. The teams met four times last season alone, including twice in the postseason. They could meet again in the Valley District tournament, which begins on Feb. 8 (and no longer has any bearing on the postseason), and in the conference tourney about a week later (the first round of the Virginia High School League’s new postseason).
“I feel like we’re getting better and better every time we play them,” Fort senior guard Clay Harris said. “… I felt like we were in the game the whole time. We really wanted it tonight.”
Playing with high energy that Leonard said has been missing in recent games, the Indians (16-2) cut the deficit to seven points four times in the fourth quarter. Junior guard Brendan Crowe – who scored all of his team-high 17 points after the break – nailed a pair of treys 36 seconds apart to help Fort stay in the game. Senior guard Caleb Simmons’ 3-pointer with 2:43 to go made it 61-54.
But then Kier acted as the punctuation mark, scoring on a drive and getting that quick steal to basically ice the game.
“I thought he responded tonight with one of his best games of the season,” Edwards said of Kier. “And it was a night they really gave Tucker a lot of attention.”
As for Kier’s uncanny ability to read tendencies on defense? Well that trait also belonged to one of Spotswood’s best players of all-time.
“That’s where he reminds me of [former SHS state Player of the Year] Marlon Organ the most,” Edwards said. “Both guys seem to be very cognizant of opponents’ tendencies. It’s like a running scouting report during a game, and they’re able to pick up some things that I even don’t see.”
Harris 5 1-1 12, Crowe 5 3-3 17, Glenn 4 0-0 8, Simmons 3 2-2 11, Jarvis 3 3-3 9, W. Henderson 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 9-9 59.
McCoy 6 6-7 19, Kh. Davis 3 5-5 12, Saylor 3 0-0 6, Lasam 2 0-0 5, J. Kier 10 5-7 28, Ko. Davis 0 2-2 2, R. Kier 1 0-0 2. Totals: 25 18-21 74.
Fort Defiance 12 9 18 20 – 59
Spotswood 15 14 19 26 – 74
3-Pointers—Fort 8 (Crowe 4, Simmons 3, Harris); SHS 6 (J. Kier 3, McCoy, Kh. Davis, Lasam). Fouls—Fort 14; SHS 13. Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Fort 30 (Glenn 9); SHS 26 (Saylor 6).
JV score: Spotswood won, 47-41.