During the hour-long bus ride from Stafford to Tuesday night's boys basketball game against Liberty, Indians Coach Steve Spicer talked to his players about only one thing.
"All he tried to hammer down to us was how we should press defensively," said senior forward Rudy Kelly. "That's it--that's all he talked about."
Behind Kelly's game-high 15 points, Stafford executed Spicer's plan in a way that left the 31st-year coach in disbelief, rolling to a 64-15 win at Fauquier High School in the first round of the Fauquier Times-Democrat Holiday Classic. For the Indians (7-0), the win marked the program's best start in nearly two decades. For Liberty, the loss marked the Bealeton school's worst single-game scoring performance in history.
Stafford's defense was so impenetrable that it held the Eagles (4-4) scoreless for 7 minutes 13 seconds in the first half. Up 7-4 with 2:25 left in the first quarter, the Indians ran off 22 straight points before Evan Carter hit a jump shot for Liberty with 3:12 left in the half. Stafford took a 36-6 lead into the intermission.
"I don't think I have ever seen something like that--and that's not an understatement," said Spicer of the effort that forced the Eagles into 21 first-half turnovers and 37 for the game. "But Liberty did miss a lot of baskets--a few times Liberty beat our press and had a layup, but the ball would just roll out. But with the athleticism and quickness we have, I know we can be a very good defensive team if we stay focused."
They're not too shabby on offensive, either. Despite having a roster that features seven players 6 feet or taller, Stafford's smallest player made the biggest impact. By making outside jump shots, 5-foot-6 senior guard Hugh Parker (10 points) forced the Eagles defense to extend, which opened the inside for Kelly.
"Making those shots gives my teammates room to do their things down low, and that's how our offense works," said Parker, whose team advanced to play fellow Commonwealth District member Brooke Point in yesterday's semifinals. "Once we had our press working the way it should, and we were focused on offense. We knew we were going to win. But I'm surprised we won by this many."
The second half featured more of the same: More Stafford full-court press, more Liberty turnovers and a four-minute-30-second stretch in the third quarter when Liberty was held scoreless.
Though the Stafford starters won the game, the Indians' reserves--who entered midway through the third quarter--were just as impressive. They allowed the Eagles just three third-quarter points, giving Stafford a 50-9 lead entering the final quarter.
The Eagles had seven players score with a basket apiece, with junior Gerald Lyon adding a free throw.
* BROOKE POINT 64, HIGHLAND 25: Led by senior forward Vincent Hunt-Love's 23 points, the Black Hawks breezed to victory over the undermanned Hawks in the first round.
Highland (5-5), a Delaney Athletic Conference member with an enrollment of just over 100, had nine players in uniform and didn't have the talent to stay with its Commonwealth District opponent that boasted a squad of 14 and an enrollment of about 1,600. Highland was also without junior forward Shawn McPherson, the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, who missed the game due to a family obligation, according to Coach Jason Coulombe.
The Black-Hawks (5-2), who faced Stafford last night in the semifinals, seized control from the start. The Stafford school built a 21-8 after the first quarter and 37-14 at the half as Hunt-Love used his muscular, 6-3 frame to score seemingly at will, including a vicious two-hand slam off a fast break just before halftime.
The second half began just as the first half ended, as the Black-Hawks used their tremendous size advantage to pound the ball down low for high percentage shots. Brooke Point also got help from its back court, as seniors Chris Logan and Melvin Allen contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively, and senior forward Daniel Tryon scored 10.
The Black-Hawks, who faced Liberty yesterday afternoon in the consolation bracket, were led by junior forward Will Dempsey's 16 points.
Note: In the other first-round game, Brentsville's Justin Thomas hit a layup at the buzzer to give the Tigers a 55-54 win over Spotsylvania. With the Knights up 54-53 with 2.7 to play, David Baker threw the ball the length of the court to center Billy Withers, who immediately hit a cutting Thomas, who scored just before time expired. The Tigers advanced to play host Fauquier, who had a first round bye, in yesterday's semifinals.