Sometimes it’s unlucky bounces, an unfriendly rim. Sometimes a loss in basketball is about the subtleties. Then other times its not and it’s the old colliquialism ‘ball don’t lie.’ The latter was the case for the Goochland boys basketball team on Tuesday at Mills Godwin High against East Rockingham in the Class 2A semifinals. The Eagles never trailed. The combination of a tough shooting night from Goochland from outside teamed with the rebounding from an East Rockingham squad that boosted great team height from one through five and its bench proved to be too much for the Bulldogs. And as a result, the best run Goochland has ever made came to end on Tuesday in a 71-52 loss.
“I definitely thought they were the better team tonight and I’m not taking anything away from our guys,” said Bulldogs coach Preston Gordon. “I love our guys but we didn’t shoot well. We cut it to five and I’m talking to coach (Matt Singleton) after and I asked are we out of gas were did we start settling for jumpers? I thought we settled for jumpers, he thought we ran out of gas. So it’s a combination of both I believe. But (East Rockingham) that’s a state title caliber team right there.”
Before Goochland got its feet settled, East Rockingham had opened up a 9-0 start to the first with the Eagles firing on all cylinders behind big men Dalton Jefferson and Tyler Nickel, both measuring in at 6-foot-6. Jefferson hit on a 3-pointer to start the contest and with that tandem dominating the defensive glass and running an inside-outside offense the Bulldogs found themselves in a 22-6 hole going into the second quarter.
“That start was huge,” Jefferson said. “It gave us the momentum and got us into a rhythm for the offense for the rest of the game. We’re a team that can do it all with great guard play and then great big guys. We’re well rounded as a team.”
Goochland found some offense in the second quarter with Kameron Holman, Quincy Snead and Deion Harwood finding a flow and cutting the lead to 10 points at the half. The Bulldogs then came out in the second half scored five straight with those three all doing their part to make it 35-30 with 5:50 left in the third frame to force an Eagles timeout, one that changed the game.
“They got back in the paint and got back into the game,” East Rockingham coach Carey Keyes said. “So in the third quarter, we don’t like to play a lot of zone but we went with a 2-3 zone and I thought that changed the game. They struggled against it and missed a lot of three’s and that got our rhythm back, we hit a couple of shots in a row and before I knew it we look up and we’re up 20. We got a lot of different guys going there.”
From there, Goochland was able to saddle Jefferson with a third foul, but that’s when East Rockingham’s depth showed up. Without Jefferson, the Bulldogs were able to focus on Nickel, but that opened up the avenues for Collin Wigley and Tyce McNair who showed they could both hit three’s and finish at the basket. The two led a 13-4 run for the Eagles to make it a double digit game just three minutes later and with McNair hitting a shot at the end of the third, it was a 55-38 game going into the fourth.
The final frame was quick. Jefferson came back in and thrived attacking the hoop which opened things up for Nickel as well to make it a comfortable 26-point lead with another 9-0 run to start to a quarter. With the 2-3 zone working and Goochland unable to connect from beyond the arc, East Rockingham was able to get to work on the clock methodically, putting on an impressive passing show midway through the quarter that melted two minutes off the clock without a turnover.
“We did a really good job down the stretch,” Keyes said. “We took care of the ball and took time off the clock. I couldn’t be more proud of my kids because they’ve worked crazy, crazy hard for this since we lost to George Mason in the region last year.”
With the game well over, Harwood was able to hit his final 3-pointer of his high school career with 51.7 seconds left while Snead wrapped up the scoring in the game with a nifty off the glass finish on a reverse to make the score more respectable at 71-52.
On the night, Jefferson led all scorers with his 21-point effort while Nickel and McNair each had 17. Wigley chipped in nine points.
For Goochland, Harwood led the Bulldogs with 17 points. Snead was not far behind with 14. Holman added in another 11, all of which came in the run in the second and third quarters.
The Bulldogs graduate Harwood, Isaiah Matovu, DJ Harris, Perry Snead-Johnson and Jamel Allen, the first three of which were all starters. With Holman set to be a junior next year taking the reins and Snead back as a senior, this will be a different Bulldogs team, but one with a tough bar to meet thanks to the work this senior class did on guiding the program to its first ever state tournament last year, and then one-upping that performance this year with a final four showing.
“I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish as a team this year because no one else has done this before us,” Gordon said. “Me being a graduate, being here now, it means a lot to me. Our fans did a fantastic job. East Rock packed it as well. But I was really proud of what we were able to accomplish this year. I told our guys ‘you can’t hang your head, you can puff your chest out because of what you accomplished this year. Regular season championship. District tournament championship. Region 2A East championship. Final four. Nobody has done that so be proud. But hopefully it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for the underclassmen. This is something we have to strive to get back to in the future.”