RICHMOND — As play stopped with less than a minute left in the game, the Maury Commodore fans that had made the trek to the Virginia Class 5 title game at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center on Wednesday afternoon slowly rose and applauded, the way basketball fans do when they realize a championship victory is moments away.

On the floor, the five Freedom-South Riding players tried not to take a glance around at the joyous crowd as they waited for play to resume, their hands planted on their hips or their knees. The Commodores would go on to win, 57-49, but this was perhaps the worst moment of Freedom’s day: when everyone in the gym acknowledged what was about to happen. 

“We just didn’t come out the way we would have liked [today] if we could do it all over again,” Coach Justin Powers said afterward.

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Just two days earlier, the Eagles had been the team making unforgettable memories as their opponent looked on. They had traveled to Potomac Falls and toppled the Panthers in the state semifinals, getting mobbed by a traveling horde of fans after the final buzzer.

That semifinal victory was the culmination of a postseason surge by the No. 14 Eagles (19-12), who had entered the playoffs with 10 losses and fell to Champe in their regular season finale by 20 points. They finished fifth in their district but won the tournament title, handing Potomac Falls its first loss of the season in the process. They would beat the Panthers again to earn a spot in Wednesday’s championship, and finished as the only team to beat them this year. 

“This is what everybody wants on the first day of tryouts: to make it to the state championship game,” Powers said. “It’s just been a magical postseason run.” 

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But in Wednesday’s championship, Maury (23-3) jumped on the Eagles early and forced them to play catch-up the rest of the way. The Commodores had quickness and size, brandishing a physical style of play that took the Eagles off-guard. Maury made just two three pointers on the afternoon, scoring 40 points in the paint. 

“Their physicality was completely different than what we were used to,” junior forward Lance Johnson said. “They were just a really physical team, and we hadn’t played like that in a while. We just didn’t bring it.”

The Eagles’ best chance at a comeback came early in the third quarter, when they put together a 6-0 spurt to cut the Commodores’ lead to four. But Maury responded, going on a 14-3 run over the next five minutes. It was punctuated by a fast break dunk from forward Clarence Rupert and the roar that followed.

“They came out and out-toughed us,” junior guard Angelo Easter said. “They brought it and we just folded. If we had stepped our intensity up like we did against Potomac Falls, it may have been a different outcome.” 

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