T.C. Williams High School boys' basketball coach Mike Hynson looked dazed as he stood in the midst of bedlam, his glasses askew and his voice hoarse. It was an appropriate expression for the end to one of the most exciting nights in Northern Region basketball history.
Hynson had just seen his Alexandria team win the championship over Fairfax's W.T. Woodson, 67-65, in the last four seconds of a game that was tied six times in the fourth quarter alone.
But that was only half the excitement last Saturday night at Robinson High School in Fairfax. In an earlier game, the Woodson girls defeated Williams, 52-50, despite trailing nearly the entire game.
Although they lost, the Williams girls will join the Woodson girls and the Williams boys in a trip to the state tournament that begins Friday in Charlottesville. Girls' teams in the Central Region of Virginia play in the fall, and as a consequence, do not participate in the state tournament. So, in order to keep four teams in the state tournament, each year on a rotating basis one of the three remaining regions (Northern, Northwestern and Eastern) gets to send two teams. This year was the Northern Region's turn, and the Williams girls, whose record is 20-6, are the beneficiaries.
It was the second regional championship in a row for the Woodson girls, who have won 25 of 26 games this season, and for the Williams boys, whose record is 21-5.
Hynson seemed to find it all a little hard to believe.
"You just have to wait until that buzzer goes off, keep playing hard until then," Hynson said after the game, as his players cut down the nets as souvenirs. "I'm elated, just elated."
The victory came when Bobby Boyd scored after grabbing the rebound on a missed foul shot by teammate Doug Lovelace. Following Boyd's shot, Woodson's Tommy Amaker took a spectacular desperation shot, but the buzzer ending the game sounded an instant before the ball left his hand. Amaker's shot went up, but did not count.
Williams displayed various strengths against Woodson, starting the game by hitting three consecutive shots to take a 6-0 lead. When Woodson's Mark Unterkofler and Pat Witting tightened the Cavaliers' defense and battled to a 24-24 tie with 6:04 left in the second quarter, Williams countered by scoring on short jump shots.
And when, at the end of the third quarter, Woodson held a 49-44 lead, Hynson told his players in a sideline huddle to play "man-to-man gut" defense. Just 2 1/2 minutes later, the Titans had tied the game at 52 and the emotional evening was peaking.
For the Woodson girls, however, the peak had come two hours earlier. They had performed sluggishly throughout the first three quarters. "We just weren't intense," said Woodson coach Cheryl Thompson, whose team has beaten Williams five times this season.
With 2:51 remaining in the game, Williams held a 50-45 lead. "I honestly didn't know if we would come back," Thompson said after the game.
But Lorraine Rimson, Woodson's best shooter, scored four points to narrow the score to 50-49 with 1:21 remaining. Twenty seconds later Lisa Unterkolfer made a baseline pass underneath the basket to Karen West, who scored to give Woodson the lead, 51-49.
Thompson said she tried a number of strategies to shake up her team, including telling her players to work the ball right into Williams' strength--under the basket, where 6-foot-3-inch Valerie Jeter and 6-foot-2-inch Inga Young patrol.
"We wanted to challenge them and get them in foul trouble," explained Thompson, who used a new offense that called for a Woodson player to consistently run the baseline underneath the basket. The strategy forced Young and Jeter deeper under the basket, freeing Rimson and others for short jump shots in the fourth quarter.
Woodson's season-long goal has been to win the state title that eluded them last year. In the locker room after the game, Thompson called her players around her and shouted: "Three minus one equals . . ."
"Two!" cheered her players. That's the number of wins they need to meet their goal.
But there are other teams from around the state who are going to Charlottesville with the same goal in mind:
Marshall-Walker (boys)--Coach Pierce Callahan hopes Marshall-Walker High School of Richmond will become the second team in history to win the Virginia title back-to-back; the first was Petersburg High School, which did it in the mid-70s with a kid named Moses Malone.
"We struggled a little early in the season, trying to get the unit together after most of last year's team graduated," said Callahan. Marshall Walker is advancing to the state tournament for the fourth straight year.
The team started the season slowly, losing three of its first six games. Since then, it has won 13 of 15.
Willie Jennings, a 6-foot-8-inch center, and Antonio Henley, a 6-foot-7-inch forward, have a combined average of 33 points and 28 rebounds a game. In the Central Region final against Petersburg, the pair had 40 points, 32 rebounds and 17 blocked shots along the way to a 68-48 win.
"I think we have things rolling," Callahan deadpanned after the regional win. "We look like a pretty good team now."
Lake Taylor (boys)--The upstart team of the Eastern Region, Lake Taylor High School of Norfolk won its first regional title in the school's 15-year history by defeating perennial Norfolk champion Booker T. Washington, 72-57, last Saturday.
Despite the fact that Lake Taylor is not a big team, it defeated much larger Washington three of five times this year while rolling up a 23-3 record.
Coach Maurice Anderson says he likes to use an "up-tempo offense and pressure defense" to make best use of junior Amp Davis, a 5-foot-11-inch point guard who is already receiving attention from major colleges all around the country.
Davis, who averages 15.6 points per game, teams with backcourt mate Robert Majette to lead the attack. Underneath the basket, Lake Taylor has seniors Brian Smith and Darnay Ward, both about 6-foot-2.
James Wood (boys)-- With four juniors and a sophomore starting, coach Don Hambleton's Winchester team will be the youngest in the state tournament. James Wood is maturing quickly, however, winning three consecutive overtime games to clinch the Northwest Region.
"I dont think anyone, including ourselves, expected us to be where we are," Hambleton said.
Juniors Ken Sine and Ben Cain team up under the boards for almost 30 points a game. Cain has scored more than 1,100 points in just three yeas.
"We're too young to control a tempo," said Hambleton of his 21-5 team. "We just look at the other teams and find their weaknesses."
Deep Creek (girls)--Last year's state champion, Deep Creek has won 53 games in a row.
The Eastern Region champions, who come from the Portsmouth area, offer a strong defensive team that has two heavily recruited seniors, Trina Trice and Carla Hillman, both of whom have committed to play at North Carolina State next year.
Trice, a 6-foot-2-inch center, teams up underneath the boards with 6-foot junior Lisa Brown and 6-foot-2 freshman Leslie Davis to provide a strong rebounding team. Hillman is a point guard.
"We play basic basketball, any tempo, not slow and deliberate like Woodson," said J.A. Straus, now in her sixth year as head coach.
George Washington-Danville (girls)--The George Washington girls lack height and experience, yet have won 23 of 24 games this season.
"We don't like to set up," coach Tommy Dodson says. "We are not big, so when we get the ball we run it down the court. We are real quick."
The tallest starter is center Bonnie Mendenhall, who at 5-foot-9 averages 13 points and 11.5 rebounds a game. She's also "the best defensive player we have," according to Dodson, who likes his team to play one-on-one defense.
Sophomore Daisy Allen is only 5-foot-3, but she averages 13.5 points a game and nearly five assists as a point guard.
Dodson, who is making his first trip to the state tournament in four years of coaching, worries about playing taller opponents. But he promises to use the same full-court press on defense with Allen leading the fast-breaking offense that won GW the Northwest Regional championship.