South Lakes boys’ basketball enters 6A North playoffs riding wave of momentum

All throughout Saturday’s Virginia Conference 6 final, Hayfield’s players had closely shadowed South Lakes standout Brandon Kamga, daring the Seahawks’ other players to pick up the slack. So even with 10 seconds remaining and his team down one, South Lakes guard Clayton O’Neill was far from surprised when the plan to get the ball in Kamga’s hands quickly dissolved.

But as O’Neill, who had scored 13 points, dribbled the length of the floor, the Seahawks senior sensed another breakdown in play, one that left Kamga wide open along the sideline. O’Neill lofted a pass to Kamga, who took one dribble before soaring into the lane for a layup while being fouled with three seconds remaining. Though Kamga missed the ensuing free throw, his clutch basket created by O’Neill’s heady play was enough to lift the Seahawks to a 60-59 win and their first conference or district title in 10 years.

“Clayton made a great play and Brandon had the best finish in the lane that I’ve ever seen him have,” Seahawks Coach Andrew Duggan said. “With the girls’ team winning the conference as well and us not having won in 10 years, it’s a pretty neat thing for our school and community. And it was a full team effort.”

Another key contributor was Zach Pearl, whom Duggan said could have shared tournament MVP honors with Kamga. Of his team-high 13 points, perhaps the biggest came two plays before Kamga’s game-winner, when Pearl was fouled on a three-pointer. The junior guard coolly knocked down all three foul shots to keep the Seahawks in contention.

“I see myself as the second option after Brandon, so if he’s having a hard time scoring, I try to step up and contribute as much as I can to help our team,” Pearl said.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the week of basketball in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

The improvement of Pearl along with a more concerted offensive effort by South Lakes, which boasted four double-digit scorers in Saturday’s win, has helped the Seahawks shake off a slow start and win 11 of their last 12 games entering this week’s 6A North region playoffs. South Lakes will host West Potomac at 7:30 p.m. in Monday’s first round.

“I think we’ve improved a lot with our chemistry since the beginning, playing better defense and getting on the same page on offense,” Pearl said. “We’ve had a lot of good practices and bonded together off the court, and I think that’s helped us do what we’re doing now.”

Another red-hot team entering the 6A North region tournament is Herndon, which has won 17 of its last 18 games and avenged its only loss in that span with Friday’s victory against Robinson in the Conference 5 championship. The addition of New Jersey transfer and Lehigh recruit Brandon Alston grants the Hornets another versatile swingman who can attack the rim, knock down the three and complement the play of Dorian Johnson and Kent Auslander.

Herndon’s wealth of weapons — five of which are averaging double-digit points — will be critical in helping the Hornets navigate a bracket that includes W.T. Woodson, which reached the state semifinals last year, and Battlefield, which was won 14 straight en route to the inaugural Conference 8 title.

Lake Braddock also rides a wave of momentum entering the 6A North region tournament. In Monday’s first round, the Bruins will look to avenge an early-season loss to McLean. Should they pass this test, the Bruins can generate confidence from their 4-0 mark against teams they could potentially face en route to Saturday’s North region final.

Full Virginia playoff brackets

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