Tayler Brletic’s meltdown was glacial. Christ Chapel’s junior point guard was first miffed after being yanked during the final four minutes of a holiday tournament victory in Beaver Falls, Pa. Lions Coach Clinton Simmons had changed defenses, and he didn’t like the degree of improvisation he was seeing from his leading scorer. When the Lions reported to their home gym off Smoketown Road for practice the following Monday, tensions remained high.
Then, he walked out of the gym — or rather, was sent home — four days before a road game at Richmond’s Millwood on Dec. 18, a rematch Brletic and the rest of the Lions had been anticipating since March 2014. The Bobcats defeated Christ Chapel, 68-62, in last season’s Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association state title game, and the Lions have seethed ever since.
Somewhere in between, a shouting match ensued, one in which the brash young player stood no chance against Simmons, a former Connecticut player.
“You’d do anything just to prove a point,” Simmons recalled Brletic saying.
The Lions’ team captain was about to learn the extent to which his words rang true.
Brletic tried to apologize, first by texting Simmons, and again that Wednesday by showing up at Simmons’s daughter’s volleyball game at the Hylton Boys and Girls Club and stating his case face-to-face.
Simmons understood, and he found Brletic contrite but, “I told him, ‘I understand you’re young and make mistakes, but there’s consequences for your actions. I’m not going to let you play this game,’ ” he said.
Despite grumbles from his players and repeated pleas for an exception in their leading scorer’s case, Simmons upheld the one-game suspension. He was weary of what he saw as insubordination.
“We went into the Millwood game, and I kind of let them do what they wanted to do,” Simmons said. “I pretty much fed them to the wolves.”
Brletic watched from the bench on Dec. 18 as his teammates endured the worst loss in school history, a 71-39 drubbing.
“At the time, it was heartbreaking and it hurt a lot,” Brletic said. “But, it made me a better leader down the road.”
“If he was willing to make a statement like that on the team captain, then obviously he’s not playing any games. He set the boundaries, and he set the bar high.”
Simmons might not have been playing games — but Christ Chapel still had more than half its season remaining. And after the Millwood debacle, the team’s play started trending up. Last week the Lions nearly upset No. 7 Capitol Christian, falling 54-52 on a mid-range jumper inside the final 15 seconds. In last week’s VISAA, Division-3 state rankings, Christ Chapel was the top-ranked squad.
Brletic has been key to the revival that’s rendered the departure of Bucknell freshman Stephen Brown a secondary story line. The 5-foot-9 guard, who has garnered interest from Holy Cross, is averaging 13.9 points per game and leading a varied cast that features seniors Jordan Griggs and Justin Tuckson. Brletic attributes the team’s resiliency to senior leadership (five seniors see significant minutes).
“We’ve definitely come a long way, but there’s a lot of talent at Christ Chapel,” Brletic said. “We think that we can play with anybody in this area. It’s just a matter of us going out and proving it.”
As if Battlefield’s Conference 8 game at Osbourn on Jan. 23 needed more gravity, Bobcats Coach Randy Bills had just learned the conference’s top regular season team would earn a No. 1 seed in the 6A North region tournament.
With the added stakes in mind, Battlefield (12-7, 5-0) went into Old Town Manassas and emerged with a 79-70 win. The Bobcats’ game plan centered on flustering and frustrating Osbourn guard Justin Vargo. The strategy worked, as Vargo left the game midway through the second quarter after being his second technical foul. He scored just seven points.
““As a team, we wanted to prove a point,” said Brayden Gault, who posted a team-high 19 points for Battlefield. “And it turned out well . . .”
Freedom-Woodbridge Coach James West said senior guard Capree Manning, the team’s leading scorer, was dismissed from the team last week for academic reasons. In eight games this season, Manning was averaging 13.9 points.
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