Chris McGahren knew how important a win Wednesday night was. So did Jed Strickland and Teo Rampini. All three Western Albemarle boys basketball’s seniors that joined the varsity as freshmen knew a state tournament bid and a little history was riding on Wednesday’s Class 3, Region C state semifinal clash and they played like it.
“It feels incredible,” McGahren said. “For me it means everything and I know it means everything for the guys in the locker room. Personally, playing at these camps since I was in first grade, to be a part of arguably the best run in school history that’s extremely meaningful.”
The Warriors dispatched Rustburg with relative ease, jumping on the Red Devils early to build an 11-4 lead that Western never relinquished, winning 52-22 in a dominant defensive performance. The win puts the Warriors back in the state tournament for the third-straight season for the first time in program history. They also managed to shake off some elements of the day that were outside the usual routine for Western
“There’s no game before us, it was a little earlier and it was a really warm day outside, it was a little bit of an odd day,” McGahren said. “So you get the opportunity to maybe catch a team off guard and I think that’s what we did. We were ready to go.”
Western Albemarle will face Spotswood in the region title game after the Blazers beat Heritage-Lynchburg 73-68 in the other region semifinal. Spotswood edged Western 53-48 in last year’s Conference 29 championship game.
Against Rustburg, the Western defense was suffocating, holding the Red Devils to single digits in each quarter. Rustburg managed just six field goals the entire game, with Strickland’s defensive effort, as usual leading the way. Strickland led the Warriors with 10 points and seven rebounds but it was the defense that was particularly stunning. Western only had four steals so it wasn’t about turnovers, it was about forcing Rustburg into bad shots and erasing options for the Red Devils and taking personal responsibility for each and every assignment.
“I think you always have to take it a little personally, you’ve got to always do your part for the team,” Strickland said. “If there’s a guy who’s bigger than you, you’ve just got to do your job and it will all work out.”
Gabe Nafziger, Garrett Payne and Charlie Weyher each finished with seven points while McGahren and Tommy Mangrum each each had six in an incredible balanced offensive effort. Mangrum had seven boards while Rampini had six rebounds. Five different Warriors had two assists each.
After do-everything point guard Ryan Ingram graduated, it wasn’t totally clear how the Warriors would function this year, but they’ve been sterling defensively and every night some different player seems to step up to lead them in scoring. Shutting off one or two Warriors just isn’t an option. It helps too, of course, that they’re battle-tested.
“This group has developed a lot of toughness, that’s been a big calling card for us,” said Western coach Darren Maynard. “Some of that was some hard knocks, losing some games to rivals here that we could’ve won but didn’t quite do it. I think that’s toughened us up and we’re determined not to let that happen again.”
They’ll test that toughness again Friday on the road against the Blazers before jumping into Class 3 state tournament play next week.