The odds against W.T. Woodson seemed to stack higher by the quarter during Friday’s Virginia 6A North region semifinal. Foul trouble hampered Cavaliers standout Eric Bowles , free throws clanked off the rim and Woodson’s fans nearly foiled their own cause, drawing a technical after prematurely storming the court in the final seconds.
Yet none of that could unravel the season-long maturation process of a team with four new starters, three of whom drained key buckets and free throws to lift Woodson to a 63-62 overtime win against No. 13 Herndon in Fairfax. The Cavaliers advance to Saturday’s region championship against Lake Braddock, which beat South Lakes, 78-61, in the second semifinal.
“When we played Herndon before, Eric got in foul trouble early, but we didn’t handle it well,” Cavaliers Coach Doug Craig said. “With the experience we’ve gained through a tough schedule, we’re more equipped to handle games like this.”
After starting the game on a 7-0 run, Woodson’s momentum took a hit when Bowles was whistled for his second foul less than four minutes into the game. Herndon’s Brandon Alston capitalized, scoring 11 of his game-high 23 points on an assortment of drives and midrange jumpers to put Herndon ahead 26-22 at halftime.
With Bowles back in the lineup to start the third quarter, the Cavaliers surged back into the lead with a 10-0 run. Meanwhile, the Hornets (23-3) went nearly four minutes without a field goal.
Woodson (20-8) found another spark in the fourth period in reserve Mike Szabo (career-high 13 points).
The Hornets’ woes at the free throw line (13 for 29) hampered several comeback attempts before Alston broke loose again, scoring the team’s final three baskets, including a tough layup that sent the game to overtime.
With Woodson leading 62-59 in the extra period, Herndon drew a foul on a three-point attempt with less than two seconds remaining. But after sinking the first two free throws, the third bounced away, sending a flood of Woodson fans onto the floor for a premature celebration that resulted in a technical foul. Following a free throw by Woodson’s Jimmy McLaughlin, who had been fouled after the miss, Herndon missed the second of two foul shots, sending Woodson to its second straight region final.
“Luckily, it didn’t decide the game for us,” Craig said of the technical, “and we’re alive to play another day.”
John Nice led a Lake Braddock three-point barrage, nailing four of the Bruins’ seven three-pointers as they advanced to Saturday’s region final.
Reagan Jones (20 points) hit two threes to help send the Bruins (23-3) to their 12th straight win.
“The game started off kind of low scoring, so those three-pointers were real critical in getting us going on offense,” Jones said. “Once we got hot, it opened up a lot of other things for us.”
Will Gregorits served as the greatest beneficiary, recording 22 points and 15 rebounds with aggressive play that sent him to the foul line, where he hit 16 of 19 attempts.
Dre Puryear led the Seahawks (19-9) with 18 points.
Saturday’s region final marks the fourth matchup of the season between Conference 7 rivals Lake Braddock and Woodson, with the Bruins winning the first three by a combined eight points.