There was a ton riding on Fork Union and Woodberry Forest’s Prep League quarterfinal with both team’s VISAA Division 1 tournament hopes on the line. Thanks to aggressive 3-pointer shooting in the first half from their guards and then strong second half in the paint, the Tigers were able to roll to a 71-56 victory and move closer to a trip to the big dance next week.
“This means a lot for these seniors but also especially for our assistant coach Steve Stancill who’s been at the school 35 years and is hanging it up after this year,” said Woodberry coach Craig Dawson. “We wanted to send him out on a great note and continue what’s been a great a ride.”
With the Blue Devils up, the Tigers went on a 12-4 run to close out the first quarter and take a 17-10 lead with Khalid Thomas, Dequece Cart and Jojo Beal all knocking down 3-pointers along the way.
In the second quarter Charlie Anderson knocked down back-to-back three’s to start what wound up being a 10-2 run to put Woodberry ahead 27-15 midway through the second. Antonio Pua’auli-Pelham was able to stop the bleeding with a 3-pointer of his own and make it a seven point game. The Tigers then got the job done at the free throw line and went up by 13 late thanks to a Jameel Wilson 3-pointer. However, Fork Union was able to get another 3-pointer out of Pua’auli-Pelham to make it 34-26 going into the break.
The second half saw a shift in style as the Tigers got Maxx Johns and Kyle Bilodeau going inside. In the third Bilodeau picked up all five of his points and helped to put Woodberry up 51-34 with 1:26 left in the third.
“Early on the guards were in attack mode and that created a lot of space for drive and kickouts,” Dawson said. “Then it created some opportunities for Kyle down low and we just worked our way through it. We had to play this way because we normally don’t give up 56 points on defense. But when you score 71 it helps out your cause.”
Johns on the other hand was a problem all night for the Blue Devils defense. He had 14 points in the second half as he attacked the basket and slashed inside. The senior forward sent the Tigers into the fourth quarter up a healthy 53-36.
“It felt good, this being our last game at home of our high school career,” Johns said.
Fork Union got a spirited effort early in the fourth quarter behind James Brooks who helped his team to get as close as 12 points of the lead, but with mounting foul trouble and the Tigers knocking down the bulk of their free throws, a comeback was not in the cards.
“They had a lot of different guys stepping up to hit three’s and we did not expect that so they definitely deserved the win,” said FUMA coach James Pelham. “Everyone in the locker room is frustrated. But I told the guys everything is okay so long as you fought as hard as you could. We’ll take this loss and learn from it and hope to come back next year stronger.”
For the Tigers, Johns led all scorers with his 24 points. Anderson had 10 points. Carter finished with nine points. Beal contributed seven. Woodberry had seven players finish with five or more points.
For Fork Union, Pua’auli-Pelham finished with 13 points paced by a trio of three’s. Brooks also finished with 13 points. Michael Cunningham chipped in eight points. Fork Union finishes its season at 8-18.
The Tigers entered the tournament just on the edge of state tournament at 13th place in what is a 12 team playoff. While this win may be enough to put them in, a win over Collegiate in the semifinals on Thursday would more than do the job. With six straight wins, the Tigers have more than turned it around after an 0-4 start to the season.
“This feels really good,” Johns said. “Last year I was sitting on the bench and we had five wins. I wanted to get back to this position and we’re doing everything we can to keep going.”