By Drew Goodman / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
Typically, when the State Tournament rolls around, worlds collide and teams with contrasting styles battling it out to move on to the Final Four.
That was not the case for the Western Albemarle boys in Saturday’s 3A State Quarterfinal clash against Hidden Valley.
In many ways, the Warriors felt as though they were looking in a mirror against a Titans squad that played similar styles on both offense and defense, a clash that appeared set to come down to whoever had the ball last.
After a back-and-forth final period and a gutsy defensive play by Jed Strickland, Western earned that final possession of the contest with the score knotted at 44-44 and 31 ticks left on the clock.
The Titans denied Western’s initial play out of a timeout, but the Warriors got one more crack at it with 3.2 seconds left in regulation.
Fortunately for Western, 3.2 seconds was just enough time for Tommy Mangrum deliver one of the biggest buckets in program history.
After corralling a high inbound pass from Garrett Payne, Mangrum briefly brought the ball down before banking in a contested jumper as time expired. The bucket lifted Western to a thrilling 46-44 triumph.
“It was the best feeling ever; this is what all players dream of,” Mangrum said.
Mangrum tallied 11 of his team-high 14 points in the second half, but none bigger than the last two which punched Western Albemarle’s first ticket to the State Final Four since 1998, four years before the sophomore stalwart was even born.
The 6-foot-3 Mangrum was a marked man by the tough Hidden Valley defense after he made a number of key buckets in the seesaw fourth quarter, but with the game on the line, Western knew it had to go with the hot hand.
“We first were trying to go for a different play, but that didn’t work out, so our coach called a play that was designed for me, and when I saw that, I wanted to make the most out of the opportunity that I had,” Mangrum said.
Mangrum also hit a turnaround jumper midway through the fourth quarter that gave Western the lead after several missed opportunities on the previous three offensive possessions.
After neither team hit a bucket for nearly three minutes, both Western and Hidden Valley combined for 22 points in the final 5:29 of play. The stretch included six lead changes as both teams traded one clutch bucket after another.
“This was a knock-down-drag-out type of game… You had to have a lot of toughness to win this game, and thankfully, we did,” Maynard said. “They had a hard time scoring on us, we had a hard time scoring on him. We just got the last play.”
In addition to Mangrum’s game-winning bucket, the final 3:05 of the game featured two clutch three-pointers and a pair of and-ones for both teams, as neither the Warriors or Titans could ever truly create any distance from one another.
Following a three-point-play by Mangrum, Hidden Valley answered with a triple by Jonah Fitzgerald that bounced high off of the back of the rim before going down.
Trailing by two with less than a minute to play, Charlie Weyher answered with a scoop layup from the right side to tie the game at 44.
Then, with Hidden Valley attempting to hold for the last shot, Strickland came up with a timely steal at midcourt, which set the Warriors up with that all-important final possession.
Strickland chipped in six big points, while fellow senior captain Chris McGahren added eight, including a crucial three-pointer from the top of the key with 1:41 left to play.
Western defeated Hidden Valley to earn a spot in the state tournament last season, but the Titans led for the majority of the contest, including by as many as seven in the second quarter.
Leading by one at the break, HVHS opened the third quarter with a 5-0 run, which drew the ire of Maynard, who implored his team to return the floor with more intensity following a timeout.
The Warriors responded with a quick 6-0 run to knot the score at 26, which was the first of what would be seven second-half ties.
“We had a hard time getting ahead; We would get even, mess something up on defense and get behind again… I just thought that if we ever got ahead, that would be able to get a handle on this game. We didn’t really until the very end,” Maynard said.
Prior to the last shot by Mangrum, Western led for roughly 80 seconds of game-time, but as soon as they pulled ahead for good at the buzzer, the entire Warrior team stormed to court to celebrate the program’s major milestone.
Western will travel to the Salem Civic Center on Tuesday night to tangle with a 28-0 Northside club that is coming off of a 25-point drubbing of Spotswood.
The Vikings knocked off the Warriors in the regional tournament by 14 points in 2017, but Maynard and company are excited for the challenge ahead.
“We sort of had kind of a “glad-to-be-there” the last couple of years. This year, we wanted to make some noise while we’re here,” Maynard said. “I told them that we’ve equaled that this is the furthest we’ve ever gone, but it doesn’t have to stop there.”