Blazer Boys Eye Upset
Posted: March 9, 2013
HARRISONBURG — Since beating Spotswood High School 65-37 in the semifinals two years ago, Brunswick has earned back-to-back state championships, won 55 games with only four losses and added a fourth Stith to the lineup.
So, it would be understandable if the Trailblazers (28-1) were feeling some pressure heading into today’s 1 p.m. game against Brunswick (27-2) at the Siegel Center, with the Division 3 boys’ basketball state title on the line.
SHS coach Chad Edwards said the Blazers feel the gravity of the moment, playing the two-time defending state champions on the biggest stage.
Suddenly underdogs, Spotswood claims it won’t do what many teams have done against 6-foot-5 B.J. Stith, 6-foot-6 Brandan Stith and the rest of the Bulldogs: change their philosophy out of fear of Brunswick’s size and athleticism.
“We’ve had a lot of success this year and we’re going to play to our strengths,” Edwards said. “But without question, I think this is the most talented team we’ll play this year.”
Brandan and B.J. Stith – the sons of coach Bryant Stith, who scored 2,516 points at the University of Virginia from 1988-92, the most in school history – are both Division I college recruits. Brandan, a senior, committed to East Carolina before this season; B.J., a junior, committed to U.Va. 18 months ago. Freshman Israel Stith, a 5-11 guard who is Brandan’s and B.J.’s cousin, also starts.
If Brunswick’s effort two years ago is any indication, Spotswood will need to shoot and rebound better to be able to pull the upset. The Blazers never had a lead in their last outing against the Bulldogs, who shot 53 percent from the floor and outrebounded SHS 38-19. Spotswood didn’t even shoot 30 percent, going 1-for-12 behind the arc.
But a late comeback in a 70-69 win Tuesday against Bruton – which Brunswick beat 56-49 in the Region I title game – has given the Blazers another shot at the Bulldogs and a chance to win their first state title since 1993 (which was their first one).
“The most important part for me is the defensive end,” Edwards said. “We think we have a defensive game plan designed to try to neutralize, again, their length and ability to score around the basket, and then on offense, I think the key to the game is getting clean shot attempts.”
Spotswood didn’t exactly bring its A-game into Richmond, shooting a woeful 28 percent in the first quarter on Tuesday. The Blazers – led by senior swingman Hyrum Weiler and junior point guard Tucker McCoy – trailed until late in the fourth quarter.
Statistically, the opening quarter has been Spotswood’s weakest.
“We need our offense not to negatively affect our defense,” Edwards said of SHS’s slow starts. “When we’re at our best, our defense positively affects our offense.”
Using all 12 players, the Blazers have outscored teams 574-350 in the fourth quarter and 1,007-678 in the second half this season.
That’s because they typically shoot well.
In 22 regular-season games, SHS shot 48.6 percent as a team, with senior forward Austin Nicely leading three Blazers who made over 50 percent, hitting 100 of 162 shots (62 percent). Weiler and McCoy each averaged nearly 19 points during the regular season.
“I think there’s some things that we can do where they’re going to have to match up with us,” said Edwards, who anticipated no changes to the starting lineup. “I want to be proactive as much as possible rather than being reactive.”
Although Brunswick plays in the tiny four-team Southside District, it has arguably had the tougher road to the state final. Its last five opponents are 89-42 (.679 winning percentage). Spotswood’s last five opponents are 83-53 (.610).
After the Bulldogs outlasted Loudoun Valley in a 24-22 state quarterfinal played at a slow pace, they manhandled Fort Defiance 56-29 on Tuesday at VCU. Brunswick coach Bryant Stith told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that it was “by far the best defensive effort we’ve had in the seven years we’ve been coming [to the state tournament], particularly in the first quarter.”
So, it’s easy to see why Brunswick is favored to win its sixth state title. But it may be a tough banner for it to earn against Spotswood’s unique pace.
“We’re the only team that probably plays at that tempo. You know, that triple-A kind of frantic, up-and-down,” SHS girls’ basketball coach Chris Dodson said of the Spotswood boys. “So, I think we’re one of the few teams that won’t back down.”