St. Anne’s-Belfield weathered the storm earlier and behind some strong outside shooting and an outstanding individual effort from Jayden Nixon inside, gave Blue Ridge fits in the first half. The second half was different though. The Barons came out with a different swagger, the kind it had last year and even the year before. And so behind a big run in the third quarter sparked by a defensive effort that stretched into the fourth, Blue Ridge was able to take a double digit lead and hold off a late surge from STAB to walk away with a 52-47 win.
“I think when the guys started the game they (thought) they were going to be able to go on cruise control,” said Barons coach Cade Lemke. “That’s too good of a team, too well-coached to be able to go through the motions with and that’s what we expressed at half time – that we were going to get their best.”
Trailing 22-21 going into the break, Blue Ridge looked entirely different in the third quarter with its press getting things going.
“Defensively, we always talk about it as a team,” Lemke said. “We play for 32 minutes and when you have the numbers that we have, we have to take advantage of that. That usually means that the teams that aren’t as deep as us, they start to make mental errors, physical errors, and I thought that’s where we did a good job.”
With things tied at 27 early in the third, the Barons finished the frame with an 11-2 run led by Aamir Simms and Josh Colon. With the highlight of the run coming with dunk from Simms with 1:42 left in the frame giving Blue Ridge a 36-29 advantage, the momentum carried over into the fourth where the Barons took a 40-28 lead.
“I told the guys we had to pick up the energy,” Simms said. “We can’t always control the shots we make but we can always give 110 percent. I think that’s something that really got to (STAB) and so we were able to pick things up a lot in the second half.”
From there, STAB was able to slowly chip away at the lead to make things interesting in the final two minutes of the fourth, forcing Blue Ridge to put things away at the free throw line. And while the Barons hit enough of their foul shots to maintain a comfortable enough lead, a trio of 3-point plays kept the Saints close, but just not close enough. Nixon got his team to as close as six before Matt Polumbo’s 3-pointer in the last second made it a 5-point game, but in the final minute, the game was never truly in doubt.
Things were slow and a bit sloppy as to be expected between two teams replacing a lot of integral pieces from last year and trying to do so in November. Blue Ridge took a 7-4 lead to start but early in the second, STAB had things locked up at 11-11. A barrage of 3-pointers from both sides kept things tied at 17-17. And while the Barons claimed a 21-17 lead, the Saints answered with a 5-0 run to close out the first half and take a 1-point advantage into the break.
“We had to be scrappy and I think we were,” said Saints coach Brian Kent. “Our kids showed effort, didn’t get themselves down.”
On the night, Nixon led all scorers with his 30 points fueled by four 3-pointers to go along with seven rebounds. Palumbo finished with 14 points including another quartet of three’s for the Saints.
“Jayden played hard and he’s a tough kid who wants to win,” Kent said. “I think he showed that tonight.”
Blue Ridge was paced by Simms who had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Colon chipped in 10 points and five assists. Darius McGhee had nine points. Jaden Frazier had eight. Freshman Richard Amaefule had six. Myles Jones led the Barons with three steals.
“Coming in tonight I wasn’t just how sure how deep we were as a team,” Simms said. “As the game went on and so many different guys stepped up when their number was called, it was impressive. As long as we practicing hard, playing games hard, we’ll be as deep as we’ve been these past two years.”
The Barons (1-0) will face Hermitage at Meadowbrook High on Saturday while the Saints (0-1) host Walsingham on Friday.