The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

South Lakes, with no returning starters, eyes another deep playoff run

South Lakes 69, Westfield 48

South Lakes junior Aiden Billings, left, and sophomore Jordan Scott have helped the Seahawks jell after the team lost five starters to graduation. On Thursday, they combined for 39 points in the team's 69-48 win over Westfield. (Spencer Nusbaum/TWP)
3 min

As South Lakes sprinted up and down the court, putting the final touches on a 69-48 drubbing of Westfield in Reston on Thursday night, Seahawks Coach Mike Desmond continually found the attention of his players, held his palms out and reminded them to stay calm.

Even Desmond knew to take a beat.

The Seahawks (17-3) lost all five starters from last season’s run to the state semifinals to graduation. Against Westfield (7-9), though it wasn’t always pretty, they prevailed.

“It’s not a rebuild,” said junior Aiden Billings, praising his team’s depth. “It’s a reload.”

There’s little room for complacency. Blowouts such as Thursday’s have become the expectation at South Lakes, which is 75-12 over the past four seasons. With a young group, there are always lessons to be learned.

“They’ve grown up a lot faster than I ever imagined. … Clearly I’m a terrible judge of talent,” said Desmond, who tempered his expectations before the season. “It’s a testament to our kids playing extremely hard.”

At the start of the season, their youth was apparent. Cohesion took time to build as players took to newer, larger roles and hoped to establish their individual games amid an overhauled roster. But teams that go far in the postseason play for each other. The Seahawks learned that quickly.

As the season progressed, the game slowed down for the Seahawks. They had fewer sloppy possessions. Their defense, which is holding Concorde District opponents to 40.9 points per game, improved. Most importantly, they began to champion each other’s successes.

They still show signs of youth. Desmond still cringes at his team’s off-ball defense. The team is privy to allow runs and take unnecessary risks. And on Thursday, all parts of the mixed bag were evident.

After building an 18-12 lead in the first quarter, the Seahawks went flat. The Bulldogs hit back, converting their inside opportunities and flummoxing the Seahawks with their zone defense, pulling ahead with three minutes left before halftime.

But South Lakes, which has aspirations to exceed last season’s deep postseason run, know where to turn in moments of crisis. Though last year’s starters are gone, their first two players off last season’s bench — Billings and sophomore Jordan Scott — have been their balm.

Scott scored the Seahawks’ final nine points of the second quarter, putting his team up 36-31 at the break. Billings became a force in the third quarter, scoring inside and issuing passes from the post to generate easy looks for teammates.

“I just didn’t want to let my team down,” said Scott, who finished with 27 points. Billings added 12 points.

Their calming presence was all South Lakes needed. They outscored Westfield by 11 in the third quarter and five in the final frame.