Jamestown falls short of goal, but "had a ball" advancing to state final

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Friday night was too early, the pain too fresh, for reflection.

Jamestown High was only moments removed from an 80-48 loss to Loudoun Valley in 4A boys basketball state tournament championship game, so the players and their coaches weren't ready to talk enthusiastically about a season that galvanized their schoolmates and established them as one of the best teams in Bay Rivers District history.

That was understandable.

The Eagles, a team that reached the final with a combination of execution, poise and chemistry, exhibited those qualities less on Friday than they had in winning 27 of their previous 29 games.

Loudoun Valley's display of those attributes in making 70.5 percent (31 of 44) of its field goals, not to mention 11 of 12 free throws, stymied the Eagles. The avalanche ensued from the start, as the Vikings (30-1) made 9-of-11 field goals in the first quarter, never allowing the Eagles (27-3) to work through whatever nerves they brought to the program's first appearance in a state final.

Jamestown enjoyed only one hopeful stretch, scoring on its final three possessions of the first half — including two Ryan Devine 3-pointers — before Ryan Jones buried two 3-pointers to start the second half. That allowed the Eagles to cut what had been a 23-point Loudoun Valley lead to 13 and provide a momentary taste of one of the most memorable aspects of the 2016-17 season.

"It was exciting, because it was the first time our support, our fans, really got into the game," Jones said. "We were feeling good and then they just seemed like they didn't miss a shot all game."

The Eagles' goal, brash second-year coach Donovan Bridgeforth said in November, was to leave a legacy as the greatest team in Bay Rivers District history.

Twins Evan Wang (16.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.0 apg) and Mason Wang (17.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.0 spg) epitomized all of the Eagles characteristics, earning Conference 18 and Bay Rivers District Co-Player of the Year honors along the way. They were the primary reason the Eagles went 18-0 in the tough Bay Rivers, replacing experienced Smithfield, 18-0 the year before, as the top dog.

The Eagles played the Packers four times, all before packed houses — three in the Jamestown gym — and won them all.

Ryan Jones, a 5-foot-8 career bench-warmer, broke into the lineup as point guard, averaged 8.0 assists and became known for his clutch shooting, passing ability and defense. Michael Schmidt (8.4 ppg, 11.0 rpg) became the heart of the team as a result of his toughness on the boards.

Devine played the sixth-man role perfectly, averaging nearly double figures for the season. Diamonte Brown returned from a wrist injury to earn a starting spot and, by the end of the season, was as much of a go-to player as the Wangs.

All are seniors, so the future of Jamestown basketball is uncertain. Bridgeforth says the next group of Jamestown varsity players is potentially as talented as this group, but must develop the passion for basketball that this year's seniors had.

Those six, whose love for the game mirrors their coach's, will look back fondly on the season long after the memory of Friday's loss fades. They acknowledged as much late Friday, even in a moment not ideal for reflection.

"We won the conference championship and the regional championship and went out to (Salem) in the state tournament," Evan Wang said. "We got two wins there, which was big, and came back here and we just didn't play our ball and we fell short."

Mason Wang said, "It was a rough way to go out but it was a great season (and) we accomplished a lot."

Bridgeforth said, "I'm extremely blessed being a part of these guys lives, not just being able to coach (and) interact with them. They're going to be a part of my family for the rest of my life. We've got some great memories. We came up short but we had a ball."

O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.

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