In need of a bucket and unwilling to go to overtime with a surging Fairfax team, Westfield deviated from its typically patient approach in the final minute of Wednesday’s Virginia 6A North region semifinal. Rather than hold the ball for the last shot in the remaining 90 seconds, the Bulldogs ran a set play designed to set up space in the high post — only to have their plans blown off course by Fairfax’s disciplined defense.
The divergence left Tyler Scanlon somewhat out of sorts and the Westfield forward’s laser focus strayed for a split second toward a familiar voice in the crowd.
“I heard my friend, Jihad, say, ‘Shoot that thing!’ ” Scanlon said. “My dad’s probably going to kill me when he reads that I listened to the crowd, but that’s how it happened.”
Suddenly realizing how open he was, Scanlon shot and drained a short jumper that served as the go-ahead basket in No. 4 Westfield’s 57-54 win against Fairfax at Robinson in Fairfax. The Bulldogs advance to Friday’s final against two-time defending region champion W.T. Woodson, an 80-66 winner over Battlefield.
Scanlon’s late bucket capped an eight-point fourth quarter and team-high 20-point night. But the Bulldogs (25-1) squeezed every drop of effort from their roster in holding off the upstart Rebels.
Though Westfield forced four offensive fouls on Fairfax in the first half, it still had trouble slowing Tyler Barton. The crafty Rebels senior sliced through the Bulldogs for 24 points, including a stretch off 11 straight that trimmed Westfield’s lead to 18-17 early in the second period.
Westfield received an improbable offensive spark from junior guard Hank Johnson, who poured in four second-quarter points during a 12-3 Bulldogs run after not scoring in nearly a month.
The Rebels (20-8), however, remained in contention, thanks to seven three-pointers. Alex McNaughton’s three to start the fourth period gave Fairfax its first lead, and four minutes later, a three-point play by Nathan Roberts pushed the Rebels’ advantage to 50-45.
Roberts also caused Westfield problems on the defensive end by parking his wide 6-foot-8 frame in the center of Fairfax’s various schemes to thwart the Bulldogs. But Jacob Williams still managed to break free, first for a drive that resulted in two free throws and then a strong lay-in that tied the score at 52, setting up Scanlon’s decisive jumper.
“For as important as Blake [Francis] and Tyler are to our team, so is the rest of our crew,” Bulldogs Coach Doug Ewell said.
Following the example of his teammates, Francis then calmly stepped to the line and sank three of four free throws to close out the win and secure Westfield’s first state tournament berth since 2012.
The formula that propelled W.T. Woodson to its third straight region semifinal was quite different than its previous two trips. Riding the play of a senior bent on making one last playoff run, the Cavaliers saw their typically pass-first point guard, Eric Bowles, average 31 points in his last five games, resulting in three wins, two losses and Wednesday’s matchup against Battlefield with a state tournament berth on the line.
After the Bobcats jumped out to an early lead in the second 6A North region semifinal, it appeared the Cavaliers again would need Bowles’s heroics. Instead, the two-time defending region champs reverted to their familiar, balanced attack. Four different players scored during a 10-0 run that built a lead the Cavaliers would never relinquish.
“Everyone knows we have Eric as a leader who can do a lot of things, but we know we need to be there for him so he can spread the ball around and our team can play to our potential,” said junior guard Matt Ayoub, who hit five three-pointers and led Woodson (19-8) with 29 points.
After a back-and-forth three quarters, Ayoub knocked down consecutive threes, the second of which rattled around the rim and in after Bowles whipped a pass to him in the corner. Bowles then maneuvered through the defense for two of his 27 points, continuing his recent scoring binge and increasing the Cavaliers’ lead over the Bobcats (18-9) to 13.
BraydenGault scored 12 points to lead four Battlefield players in double figures.
“It all depends on what the defense gives me,” Bowles said. “Tonight, all the defense was coming out to help against me, so even though I still scored, I was also able to find my teammates more.”