All season long, No. 15 Wakefield had bucked the odds, overcoming the graduation of its two top players to make a return trip to Saturday’s Virginia state semifinals. And as the clock wound down to the final minute, somehow Wakefield’s mountain of near-misses and inopportune turnovers had only amounted to a one-point deficit against defending state champion Henrico.
But as the ball bounced loose following a fourth straight Henrico missed free throw, the same deficiency that had doomed Wakefield for the entire game surfaced again. Henrico corralled one of its 15 offensive rebounds, squelching Wakefield’s attempt at a rally and ending Wakefield’s season one game short of the 5A state final with a 63-55 victory in Fairfax.
Wakefield junior center Dominique Tham was the Warriors’ lone consistent source of offense, but his 26-point, 22-rebound performance wasn’t enough to overcome Henrico’s dominance on the boards (41-30) and at the free throw line (28 for 40).
“We can’t go into a game and have 30 rebounds total and one kid has 22 of them,” Wakefield Coach Tony Bentley said. “We were on the big stage, and I have no idea where our other rebounders were.”
Wakefield (24-5) capitalized on its size advantage early, with Re’Quan Hopson scoring six first-quarter points to build a 12-9 lead. But Henrico’s increased intensity in the paint and on the offensive boards helped spark a 13-0 run and a second-quarter lead that it would never relinquish.
“I think we underestimated them as 5-10, 5-11 guys, but they all can jump and show a good work ethic on the boards,” said Hopson, who finished with 11 points.
Tham elevated his play in the third quarter, scoring all but two of the team’s 11 points to keep Wakefield in contention. But the open looks created by the penetration of Henrico sophomore guard De’Monte Buckingham (17 points, 14 rebounds) kept the defending champions in control into the game’s final minutes.
Another three-point play by Tham coupled with four straight missed free throws from Henrico pulled Wakefield within 51-50 with 1 minute 45 seconds to play. And even after Henrico (22-6) rebounded its own miss and ended its free-throw drought with two makes, Wakefield found itself with the shot it needed — an open three-point look from the corner.
But on a day when Wakefield shot just 2 for 13 from behind the arc, the long attempt fell short. From there, Ryan Pearson (23 points) and Henrico hit 10 of their final 12 free throws to seal a return trip to Friday’s state championship game.
“We would get back in the game with layups and free throws, but then we’d go for the three to try to save us and [it] wouldn’t fall,” said Hopson, one of four Wakefield seniors. “The last two years have been great, and even though they’re losing me and a few other seniors, I feel like this team has the talent to be back here next year.”