He was in a much more advantageous location in the waning seconds of the No. 15 Indians’ home game Tuesday night against defending Virginia AAA Cardinal District champion Potomac (Va.).
With 6.7 seconds remaining, the 6-foot-3 Bailey put back a teammate’s miss to score the decisive basket in a 42-41 victory, a game that Gar-Field had not led from midway through the second quarter until that very moment.
“I thought it was going to roll in,” Bailey said of the initial shot by senior forward Xavier Roscoe. “I boxed out, and the ball fell in my hand. I was surprised actually.”
Bailey, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds, was fouled on the play and missed the free throw. At the other end, Potomac junior Randy Haynes, who made the winning layup at the buzzer to beat Gar-Field in the district final last year, misfired on a long jump shot from near the three-point line, angle right, as time expired.
It was a what-the-heck-happened loss for Potomac, which led by 10 at the half, by 14 early in the third quarter and by seven with less than four minutes remaining.
“It’s a real testament to the kids that they never thought, ‘We’re out of it,’ ” said Gar-Field Coach Andy Gray, whose team had surged to a 13-5 lead before being outscored 22-4 in the last seven minutes of the second period.
The winning shot by Bailey, who averaged two points a game in 16 appearances last year for a 26-2 team that won the Northwest Region title, was meaningful for several reasons. It sustained the Indians’ unbeaten season, partly avenged a 44-42 loss to Potomac in last year’s district final, and showed a relatively untested lineup that it could weather stretches without foul-riddled senior guard Curtis Lovitt and an off shooting night from senior guard Zach Fong, a Navy recruit who missed eight of 10 shots.
Bailey easily could have been on the bench late in the game; he picked up his second foul with more than two minutes remaining in the first quarter. He made a key basket early in the third period, going end to end off a steal for a basket after Potomac (2-2, 0-1) had taken that 14-point lead.
“Last year [Bailey] was talking about working for that starting spot for the upcoming season,” said Lovitt, who had 8 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists and picked up his fourth foul less than a minute into the final period. “And he worked hard for it, offseason, practice. He’s always on the block when we need to find him. And he always puts the ball in the basket when we need him to.”
Bailey and Roscoe (team-high 11 points), football teammates, look for each other inside. Bailey found Roscoe for a basket with 3:38 left to pull the Indians to within 40-35. Roscoe soon after hit a foul shot to make it a four-point game, and about nine seconds later, Gar-Field junior guard Donte’ Warner nailed a three-pointer.
Lovitt tied the game by making the second of two free throws with 1:11 left. Potomac sophomore Trey Porter (team-high 11 points) hit one of two foul shots with just less than a minute to play. Porter blocked a Bailey shot that would have given Gar-Field (6-0, 2-0) the lead. Bailey grabbed a rebound on the defensive end off a missed free throw and the Indians called time with 14.6 seconds to play, down one in a game they had trailed by 14 earlier in the half.
“We try to teach these kids that it’s a possession-by-possession deal, and that you’ve got to make each possession a masterpiece,” Gray said. “It’s a great lesson for the kids to learn. You’re never out of it. If you continue to play.”