When the ball is in Will Ferguson’s hands, Herndon has little trouble trusting its senior leader, one of the area’s top scorers at 21.9 points per game. In the final moments of Thursday’s Virginia AAA Concorde District semifinal against Chantilly, the tables were turned, with Ferguson relying on his Hornets teammates for a bailout.

After Ferguson missed a free throw to keep Herndon’s lead at one with 10 seconds left, the Chargers set up for the last shot. But thanks to a defensive stand and a broken play, that last shot never came, allowing Herndon to hang on for a 53-52 victory in Burke.

The Hornets advance to Friday’s championship, where they will face Robinson, which upset Oakton in the other semifinal.

“I wasn’t necessarily worried after I missed the free throw because I knew we had to get a stop and when we need a stop, our guys get it,” said Ferguson, who finished with a game-high 20 points.

On that final possession, Chantilly Coach Jim Smith called “Purple Play,” an offensive set designed to open up a shot for Deandre Harris, who had scored the Chargers’ last basket. After seeing the play’s first option dissolve, Smith debated calling timeout but with four seconds left and Herndon still settling into its defense, he thought otherwise.

“Generally, you want to let it play out and as the play develops, you hope to get a better opportunity to score,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to call timeout and let Herndon set up in their defense, but they came up with a big stop on defense and we never got a shot off.”

The third quarter brought better fortune for the Chargers. A 6-0 run midway through the period helped them tie the game at 37, as Sean Huelskamp (seven points) asserted himself inside. As was often the case Thursday, though, the Hornets would respond. Ferguson scored nine of the game’s next 16 points to help Herndon build its biggest lead of the night at 49-41.

Harris got hot in the final minute, scoring seven of his 13 points, while Herndon missed all four of its free-throw attempts to allow the Chargers to pull within one. But that’s as close as Chantilly would get to the district’s top-seeded team.

“In the playoffs, it’s like [the late former North Carolina State Coach] Jim Valvano used to say – you survive and advance,” Hornets Coach Gary Hall said. “I trust these guys and even though we missed some free throws, we pride ourselves on our defense and with that one stop, we pulled through.”

Robinson 63, Oakton 56

Joe Bynum can’t quite explain it, but the Robinson junior swingman admits that Oakton has a tendency to bring out the best in him.

“I don’t know what it is. I guess you could say Oakton has gradually become some sort of rival that gets me going,” Bynum said.

Following a quick start that saw Robinson build an early double-digit lead, Bynum continued to fuel the Rams’ surge with 15 points off the bench in a 63-56 victory. In the first of two previous losses to the Cougars, Bynum scored a season-high 13 points, and this time, the junior made sure his strong effort wasn’t for naught.

Initially, it was Joe’s older brother, Nick Bynum, who paced the Rams. The senior forward scored seven points in the first quarter as Robinson burst ahead for a 16-4 lead after one quarter.

“The last two times we played Oakton, we had a slow start and never recovered,” Rams Coach Brian Nelson said. “We’re at our best when we play fast, so getting out to that quick start and big lead really was key for us.”

Three-pointers from Robert Bacon (19 points) and Thomas Tribble helped the Cougars close the deficit to five in the second quarter, but a 7-for-15 showing at the foul line hurt their chances of a comeback.

Joe Bynum’s play didn’t help either. At 6-2, 200 pounds, Bynum has a post presence to go with his outside stroke, skills that were on full display during an eight-point third quarter that helped put the game out of reach.