For three quarters, it was demolition derby on the hardwood. Bodies crashed, iron clanged and the nets grew dusty.
But in the fourth quarter, the boys of Loudoun County and Loudoun Valley high schools remembered they were inside the Raiders' gym to play basketball and proceeded to put on an electrifying eight minutes of end-to-end action before the Raiders emerged with a 62-51 victory, spurred on by a raucous crowd.
The 50 turnovers and 33 fouls the teams accumulated were the products of awkwardness, hesitancy and lack of patience in the half-court set. But Loudoun County was able to eliminate enough of those errors in the final quarter. It was as if the Raiders (1-5 Northwestern District, 2-9 overall) collectively flipped a switch on their backs, kick-starting an explosive fourth quarter in which they scored 29 points--four more than they had through three quarters--and erased a nine-point halftime deficit.
"We made free throws and layups in the fourth quarter," Raiders Coach Chick Bushrod said, "and that's what's been killing us."
Pacing the Raiders' charge were shooting guard Dave Groy and reserve forward Justin Gawrilo, who combined for all the points during a 17-5 Loudoun County run, which gave it the lead for good, 51-48, with three minutes to play.
But as much as the Raiders stepped up their game down the stretch, the Vikings (4-1, 7-3) relaxed theirs. Loudoun Valley made only seven field goals in the second half and, in the fourth quarter, seemed to wait for Loudoun County to make the same mistakes it had made as the Raiders fell behind, 28-19, at halftime, and by 13 in the third quarter.
"All the loose-ball opportunities they had, they picked up and made one-foot layups, and we missed ours," Loudoun Valley Coach Scott Douglas said. "You see the price you pay for being overconfident. When you have the advantage, you feed off of it. But when you don't--and especially when it's a rivalry game--you're inviting disaster."
And disaster struck for the Vikings in the final three minutes, once Loudoun County took the lead. The Raiders slowed the pace of the game, which forced Loudoun Valley to rush its attack. But down 53-51 with 1 minute 9 seconds to play, the Vikings still had one last chance as they stole the inbounds pass. Vikings senior captain Anthony Long, who struggled with his shot all game, was wide open at the top of the arc. But he passed up the shot and tried to feed Kevin McKay on the right wing. The pass short-hopped McKay and went out of bounds. The play epitomized the several chances that Loudoun Valley fumbled away.
"That's where experience comes in," Douglas said. "You hear the screaming, you hear the noise. At JV, you've got 25 people in the stands, but now you've got 1,000 people yelling. How you handle that tells you what kind of a basketball player you are."
After that, the Raiders capitalized on a harried Loudoun Valley team and scored their final baskets on breakaway layups to close out the scoring.
Loudoun Valley (4-1, 7-3)--Long 3 4-4 10, Culbert 4 3-6 11, Hyatt 0 0-0 0, McKay 2 2-3 6, Harper 3 1-1 8, Barton 3 0-0 6, Carlson 4 0-0 8, Ripley 0 2-2 2. Totals: 19 12-16 51.
Loudoun County (1-5, 2-9)--Lincoln 0 0-0 0, Houseknecht 0 0-0 0, Stocks 5 1-2 11, Kozak 0 0-0 0, Groy 6 6-8 18, Gawrilo 4 2-3 10, Ramey 4 3-3 12, Washington 2 0-2 4, Poland 0 1-2 1, Paynter 3 0-0 6. Totals: 24 13-20 62.
Halftime: Loudoun Valley, 28-19.
Three-point goals: Loudoun County 1 (Harper). Loudoun Valley 1 (Ramey).
CAPTION: Loudoun County's Doug Poland races downcourt with Vikings Tyler Dorsey (14) and Zac Barton in pursuit. The Raiders scored 29 points in the fourth quarter.
CAPTION: Nate Ripley (20) and Michael Stocks fight for the ball. Loudoun Valley and Loudoun County combined for 50 turnovers and 33 fouls.
CAPTION: Jeff Paynter plays defense against Loudoun Valley's Kevin Culbert. The Vikings converted just seven field goals in the second half and blew a 13-point third-quarter lead.