Back to Balance: Western boys get on track with win over Monticello

Photo by Rob Garland Photography/Monticello Athletics

Following a sluggish win over Fluvanna County on Tuesday night, Western Albemarle boys’ basketball coach Darren Maynard was hoping for a more balanced effort from his team in Friday’s rivalry showdown at Monticello.


The triumph over Fluvanna was by and large the Chris McGahren show, with Jed Strickland making a few hustle plays and not much else. The Warriors’ support cast got back in gear though against Monticello in a 54-42 win over the Mustangs..


With the win, Western Albemarle (15-5) earned the season sweep of Monticello for the fifth-straight year.


McGahren led the way once again with 14 points, but the senior had plenty of help from his counterparts in the front court.


Tommy Mangrum was a difficult matchup in the post for the undersized Mustangs, as the 6-foot-3 junior muscled his way to 12 points on the night. Garrett Payne had a terrific all-around game for the visitors, tallying nine points, eight rebounds, and five crucial blocks.


Gabe Nafzinger was efficient off of the bench, knocking down a pair of threes to finish with eight points.


Strickland turned in five points, but made a number of big plays that did not show up on the stat sheet, including drawing a pair of charges and rarely letting his man get a rebound on either end of the court.


“I think our core is our our seniors and they played well,” Maynard said. “Garrett also played really well and that gave us a big lift. When he’s high-energy like he was tonight, he’s tough to stop and he gives us something that a lot of people don’t have with his athleticism.”


Western Albemarle trailed for less than one minute in the opening frame, and led by double digits for the majority of the contest. That sizeable advantage was thanks in large part to a pair of runs in the second and third quarters.


Carrying a modest two-point lead heading into the second, the Warriors opened the quarter with a 10-0 surge, highlighted by a triple and a three-point play by McGahren.


Monticello appeared to be ready to head the locker room with some momentum before Payne closed out the first half with a back-breaking trey following a turnover. Payne jump-started a 9-3 mini-run between the late-second and early third-quarters that gave Western its largest lead of the game at 20 points.


The Mustangs eventually closed the gap to 10 points in the fourth quarter, but could never pull to within single digits, thanks to the early damage done by the Warriors.


“We sort of took really good control of the game but it seemed like we threw them the ball about five straight times to make it somewhat interesting. We’ve got to have a little better killer-instinct than that,” Maynard said.


The Warriors appeared to be headed to the fourth quarter with a 17-point advantage, before Kobi Copeland drilled a half-court shot at the buzzer to finally give the pink-clad Mustang Maniacs something to cheer about.


Copeland, who wasn’t heard from until the half-court heave, scored nine straight Monticello points to pull the Mustangs within striking distance in the fourth quarter.


The junior guard had an exciting few minutes in the second half, but the frontcourt duo of Dylan Booth and Ben Drake did an admirable job of hanging with Western Albemarle’s deep array of big men all night.


A triple by Drake gave Monticello its only lead in the first quarter, and he, along with Booth accounted for 20 of the Mustangs’ 42 points. After falling behind by 20 in the third quarter, Booth and Drake engineered a 9-0 Monticello run, which Thad Lane polished off with a hard-earned three-point play.


The Warriors routinely threw multiple different big men at Booth all night, but the multisport athlete settled in to earn some nice looks in the paint and even got the better of his taller defenders on several occasions.


A valuable member of the Monticello football and baseball programs throughout his high school career, Booth decided to spend his final year at the school playing varsity basketball for the first time. His senior debut on the hardwood has been a revelation for the Mustangs, and has been a big part of the team’s recent resurgence, particularly with guard Dean Lockley being sidelined with an illness.


“Everyday we talk and [Booth] wishes that he would have played when we asked him to come out as a freshman,” said Monticello head coach Gary Spry. “He’s grown so much and we’re proud of him. He’s progressed so much since the beginning of the year in just learning the system and how to play the position.”


The Mustangs will host Jefferson District co-leader Louisa County on Tuesday for senior night.


The Warriors on the other hand will conclude their regular season at Orange, after having wrapped up their brutal four-games-in-eight-days stretch.


Western Albemarle ended the grind with a 3-1 mark and currently sit one game behind Spotswood for the best record in the all-new region 3C. With both districts and regionals coming up, Maynard feels that the NBA-esque schedule that his team recently played will help his team going forward.


“Pretty much, region seeding-wise, we had to have them all, and we have one more regular season game before we can move on,” Maynard said.