Dominique Tham is infamous among his Wakefield teammates for getting nervous before games. And with a state tournament berth on the line in the Virginia AAA Northern Region semifinals, those jitters only magnified.
That led Tham to do what many an anxious player has done in a big game — his first shot was an air ball.
Thirty-one minutes later, after Wakefield had secured a 68-58 win against Robinson, the sophomore’s nerves resurfaced. With 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 blocks, Tham had just played the best game of his short high school career, placing all the buzz around the shy forward as the Warriors qualified for their third region championship in nine years.
“Coach [Tony Bentley] told me to stop being nervous, but I’m nervous before every game,” Tham said. “Once I broke my first sweat, I relaxed.”
While Tham settled in, he and his teammates gave Robinson fits. The Warriors scored the game’s first nine points; the Rams (19-9) were held without a field goal during a six-minute stretch in the second quarter that saw Wakefield extend its lead to 18 points.
Robinson fought back, riding the play of Matt Fall (15 points) to make several short spurts in the second half. But even when the Warriors’ offense stalled, they created opportunities at the foul line. Re’Quan Hopson, the hero from a buzzer-beating quarterfinal win, led Wakefield with 21 points, including 11 for 16 from the foul line.
In the first semifinal, W.T. Woodson point guard Eric Bowles and forward Peter Murray keyed an early flurry of transition baskets that helped the Cavaliers roll past their Patriot District rivals for the third time is as many meetings.
“South County has guys like Oren Burks who like to block shots,” said Murray, who led 10 Woodson scorers with 16 points. “So I knew when Eric drew them in, that would open the paint up for me.”
While Bowles’s penetration opened the floor for Woodson to drain six three-pointers, Murray’s basket helped open a 14-4 first-quarter run that sparked the Cavaliers (23-4).
Along with earning their second state tournament appearance, Woodson will vie for its first region title Saturday.
Burks worked to keep South County’s Cinderella run going, scoring seven of his 14 points in the third quarter to pull the Stallions (11-17) within 11. But they would get no closer, as the Cavaliers’ balanced attack helped them open up another 14-4 run to pull away.
“To already be going to state as a sophomore, it gives me butterflies,” said Bowles, who had eight points. “It’s rewarding that we can reach one of our goals and hopefully we can finish the deal [Saturday], too.”