Staying on top: Albemarle remains unbeaten after battle with Louisa

Photo: Ryan Yemen

Sometimes the king stays the king, and Albemarle,  the team that’s been the team to beat in the Jefferson District the last the two seasons, isn’t ready to hand over its crown in 2017. But if an early December meeting was any indication, Louisa County is definitely a team keep an eye on going forward.


“I think at the beginning we were almost intimidated by their size,” said Albemarle coach Greg Maynard. “They have some big kids and it’s almost like we’re playing against college kids.”


The Lions got out to great starts in the first and third quarters despite missing two of their key guards. But Albemarle’s experience, speed on defense and outside shooting proved too much in response. In what was a great back-and-forth that had both teams locked up going into the fourth, the Patriots had one late burst in them to protect their home court with a 60-55 win.


“We have to play some intensity and that’s why were 6-0 coming into this game,” Maynard said. “It took some timeouts and screaming and yelling but once we started doing it then we started making things happen. That opened up lanes for the drives, the kickouts and the shots outside.”


The Patriots found themselves in a 10-3 hole to start, but with a 17-4 run of their own in response — much of which came with star guard J’quan Anderson on the bench as he dealt with early foul trouble — Albemarle was able to take a solid lead in response. The Patriots went into the second up 20-16 and in a back-and-forth second quarter that saw little change, the Albemarle lead was at 29-25 at the break.


“Once we settled down and started playing our game — and defensively I thought we played fine in the first half — but we still weren’t clicking on the offensive end, Cartier Key was saving us with some threes and keeping us in it… I felt fortunate we were up in the first half,” Maynard said.


The third quarter started with a 14-3 run from Louisa that featured Carlton Williams and Malik Bell and Chris Shelton getting things going offensively to put the visitors up 39-32.


“It’s early in the season and all you ask as a coach is that the guys play hard and give us a chance to win,” said Louisa coach Robert Shelton. “We’ve got to learn on the fly. We’ve got to do some coaching on the fly and make adjustments at halftime with limited practice time but that’s not an excuse.”


But once again, Albemarle had its own answer, this one of the 9-2 variety to send things tied at 41-41 going into the fourth.


While the Lions once again got a great start to the quarter with a thunderous dunk from Brandon Smith, the Patriots would wind up controlling the pace of the fourth as they hit nine of twelve free throw attempts and continuously attacked the basket and forced turnovers with their press. That paired with a fifth 3-pointer from Cartier Key and a layup from Anderson in back-to-back fashion to make it 57-49 with just over two minutes to play.


“We had to pick up the intensity because they had great runs,” Key said. “We just had to play with heart. They’re tall, they’re trees out there, it’s ridiculous. But we had ot play with heart, play physical and match the intensity that they played at and that’s what we did.”


Bell would put Louisa to within four points of the lead with 1:05 to play, but that would be it the rest of the way as Albemarle hit its free throws to keep the Lions at bay and wrap up the win.


“We obviously caught Louisa at a good time, they had a lot of guys on the football field (from November to December),” Maynard said. “They’re missing a couple of their players still and they’ve got a chance to be a really good team this year. So to get a win over them, whenever it is, that’s important and we’ll have a battle on our hands when we go to Louisa later.”


For Albemarle, Key led the way with his outside shooting pacing the way for his 22-point effort. Anderson finished with eight points and all of them coming in the second half. Max Jarmon had 11 points with eight of them coming in the first half. Nail Arnold had six points, all of them coming at the free throw line. KaySean Allen had eight points with six of them coming at the free throw line.


For Louisa, Williams led the way with 14 points. Shelton and Bell both had 11 points. Xavier Hunter and Chris Steppe both had six points.


“I think we learned a lot playing a good team like Albemarle,” Shelton said. “We’ve just got to mesh as a group and gel and while I think these guys are sad about the loss I think they’re happy with their effort.”


Louisa (1-1) hosts Midlothian today at 5:30 p.m. Albemarle (6-0) is off until it plays in the Holiday Classic Tournament starting next week.