VHSL Class 3 State Tournament
Final: Louisa County (26-4) versus G.W. Danville (23-2), 8 p.m. Thursday
The Basics: Louisa County is certainly still a football school. It just might be time to say they’re also a basketball school. The Jefferson District probably doesn’t get enough credit when it comes to boys basketball, but three different teams in the last three years on the boys side (Albemarle, Western, Louisa) have played in the state final four. Now two different teams in back-to-back years, Western and Louisa have played for state titles. The Lions are back in the state title game for the first time since 1994, getting there with a come-from-behind stunner over Lake Taylor. It would’ve been easy to leave the Lions for dead down 15 to Lake Taylor three hours from home, but the Lions rallied, with 24 points and seven assists from Xavien Hunter leading the way. Now they face a G.W. Danville squad coming off their own emotional victory after finally beating Jefferson Forest, the team that knocked them out of the state playoffs last year and rallied to beat them in the region title game this year. The Eagles are balanced offensively much like the Lions, with sharpshooter Kapone Barley, guard Shunta Wilson, Ny’Rek Wheeler and Taveon Walden all capable of posting double figures. They can also deploy Carlos Poole, who had three breakaway dunks against Jefferson Forest in the Class 4 state semifinals Tuesday night. That’s a lot of weapons. Of course, Louisa averages 72.5 points per game (GW averages 67.6) and counters with Hunter, Chris Shelton, Jarett Hunter and Isaac Haywood as well as Shylek Washington and Mark Carter. Haywood is a potential x-factor as he continues to make life tough on opposing players at the bottom of the 1-3-1 zone while vacuuming up rebounds. Like most any state title game, this one has all the makings of a classic. Two teams who have continually found different ways to win, strong supporting actors outside the main standouts and the chances for some unlikely, unexpected heroes to emerge. This could be a classic.
Key Matchup: The Lions’ zone takes on GW’s Wilson. Usually when a team primarily plays a zone, you expect them to slow down the pace at least a bit. But Louisa’s 1-3-1 zone attacks and traps out beyond the 3-point line, creating a lot of turnovers and transition buckets. Still, a 6-foot-1 guard like Wilson can create some problems for Louisa and give the Eagles some advantages to exploit. Louisa can fall back on recent experience to aid in this effort as Lake Taylor’s own point guard Zyrail Mitchell is a tall guard who can create problems. If Louisa can contain Wilson in similar fashion, they could find themselves hoisting a trophy late Saturday night.
Who to Watch: Louisa County’s Chris Shelton. In a game like this, it’s hard not to look to the Lions’ leading scorer, their senior leader and the key to their defensive system. It just so happens that they’re all the same guy. Shelton’s growth over the last few years has been remarkable. He’s gone from primarily a 3-point threat to all-around contributor who impacts the game in so many different ways, from driving and attacking to forcing turnovers. That’s a testament to the work he’s put in that’s opened doors for him at the Division I level. He’s also so clearly at home with his role and the rest of the players around him, a product of the fact that much of the Lions’ roster has played together since middle school. Now they’re getting to live out something they likely dreamed about, playing for a state championship together, playing for a state championship for a community that has had their back most of their lives.
The Line: Louisa County by 3. The Lions just keep finding ways to win, from blitzing teams early on with an offensive onslaught to rallying with huge second half surges. We don’t expect them to stop figuring that out on the season’s biggest stage.