It was a catch 22 for Fort Defiance. The effort the Indians made to keep Chase Stokes off the score book in the first half worked. But that same effort played right into the kind of game that Western Albemarle thrives in. Sam Chisholm did what he had to in the first half of a defensive-minded game early. In the second half, Stokes did his part and thanks to a 22-point effort in the final two frames, the Warriors took a close game and simply pulled away for a 60-49 win to secure a berth in the Region 3A West playoffs.
“We struggled mightily on offense in the first half but luckily we were playing really good defense,” said Western coach Darren Maynard. “I thought Chase was big (in the second) getting aggressive and taking the ball to the basket and getting some buckets and getting some fouls. We got a little margin… they started to foul and we just made enough of those (free throws).”
The game was deadlocked through the first two quarters with constant lead changes, but neither team establishing complete control. While Stokes was limited to just two first half points, the Warriors survived with Chisholm leading the way with six points in that time frame to keep the game tight with the Indians leading 22-20 at the break, but heading into the second half with foul trouble all around.
The first half was the perfect set up for Western as Stokes took over in the second.
“I went into the locker room (at half) and just knew I had to come up a little bigger,” Stokes said. “So I decided to take it to the hoop a bit more because I wasn’t shooting my best beyond the arc. I went to the basket instead… and they’re you go.”
Western took the lead out of the break with a 7-0 run. The Indians worked it back to a one-possesion game late in the third quarter, but that wound up being the closest they could really get to over taking the Warriors.
Up by four midway through the second half it was more Stokes and more fundamental defense and free throw shooting for Western. With three minutes to go and a 9-point lead, Western went after the clock and did so effectively. For the last two minutes of the game the Indians had to put the Warriors at the free throw line and saw little movement as Western hit five of its first six free throws in the bonus during that span to take a double-digit advantage.
“We were trying to get to the line all night, working off pump fakes,” Stokes said. “We got to the line and they were falling in.”
While Fort Defiance did get to within seven of the lead, it came far too late and the Warriors were able to close out the game comfortably. The Indians handed Western its first loss of the season back in December and Maynard and company knew they would likely see this team come playoff time.
“We pointed to this game,” Maynard said. “Even then I knew there was a chance we would have a chance to play them in a meaningful game. They’re very good and I have a lot of respect for them. They’re well coached and their kids play hard as hell.”
On the night, Stokes found a way to finish with a game best 24 points. Chisholm was huge with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Eli Sumpter added 11 points. Jake Maynard finished with seven.
Western will play Spotswood in the Conference 29 championship Friday at Monticello, but both teams already earned their right to play in the Region 3A West tournament next week.