Jaylin Stewart’s asthma means he tires a little easier than most players.
But fortunately for Walsingham Academy, the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools’ most valuable player still had plenty left when it counted.
Stewart scored half of his game-high 30 points in the final eight minutes as the Trojans staved off a second half charge from Hargrave Military Academy for a 80-75 home win Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II boys basketball tournament.
Marcus Banks added 25 points and Philipp Walz 13 for the Trojans (26-2), who next face top seed Miller School of Albemarle (25-4) in the semifinals at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Virginia State University in Petersburg.
“All year long, these kids have had this tremendous will to win,” said Trojans coach Billy Barnes. “I wish I could say I taught them it, or something like that, but these guys, they just make plays, and they just keep going, and they were exhausted.”
Walsingham led by as many as 17 points in the first half, and were still up 39-25 at halftime. Hargrave (14-9), however, used its full court trap to good effect, causing turnovers that led to easy baskets.
The Tigers cut the Trojans’ lead in half by the end of the third quarter and twice tied the game in the fourth quarter, led by Benson Lin, who hit six 3-pointers, five of those coming in the second half. Lin was Hargrave’s leading scorer with 20 points.
“(Lin) was lighting us up,” Barnes said. “He was a good shooter. I didn’t think he could shoot like that, but he did, so hats off to him.”
But led by Stewart, the Tigers could never get back in front, and Walsingham solved Hargrave’s pesky trap.
The first time Hargrave tied the game — at 61-all with 5:36 in the fourth quarter — Stewart made one-of-two free throws to put Walsingham back in front. At the 4:43 mark, when it was tied again at 68-all, Stewart scored 11 of the Trojans’ next 13 points, and the Tigers never leveled the game or led again.
“Coach Barnes always tells me, ‘Keep going Stew, keep going,” Stewart said. “So tonight with my breathing messing up, I had to push through for my team.”
Still, with 17 seconds to go, the Walsingham lead was only 77-73 following a Stewart free throw when Sam Jones alertly stole the ball near midcourt as Hargrave was trying to preserve time on the clock by rolling the ball untouched off the inbounds pass.
“The possession before, I noticed he waited a long time to pick it up,” Jones said. “And then, it was close again, (so) I just went for it. I got the ball before he got to grab it.”
Walsingham had won 24 games in a row heading into the TCIS championship game, but the streak was broken with a 44-43 loss last Saturday to Norfolk Academy.
“The conference championship definitely hurt us, so we used that as motivation,” Stewart said. “We just came out how we knew we could play.”
At the beginning of the season, Walsingham didn’t even know whether it would have enough players to field a team. From there, the Trojans lost their opener before their winning streak which ended last Saturday.
They’ll settle for a three-game winning streak now — that would give them a state championship in what is already the best season in school history.
“Our core, we’ve been blessed we’ve been healthy all year,” Jones said. “We play really well together, we move the ball really well, we shoot the ball well … (and) we can guard most teams. We have a will to win.”
Walsingham will see a familiar face when it faces Miller Friday, as Tariq Balogun, who suited up for the Trojans last season, is now at Miller. In last season’s state quarterfinals, Miller blew out Walsingham 80-43. However, one of Miller’s four losses this season came against Hargrave, the team Walsingham just defeated.
“We know we can hang with them,” Jones said of Miller. “They’re probably not going to be thinking that we’re that good. (But) we might surprise some people.”
Williamsburg Christian Academy bounces back from conference tourney loss, advances to VISAA Division III state semis
Bouncing back from a disappointing loss in the Metro Conference championship game, top-seed Williamsburg Christian Academy picked up a 92-69 home win over Amelia Academy Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the VISAA Division III state tournament.
Kam Harris led Amelia with 31 points, while Zumar Smith had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
The Eagles (27-7) are looking to defend their state championship and will face No. 4 seed Carlisle School (24-7) in the semifinals at 12 p.m. Friday at Virginia State University in Petersburg. Carlisle School outscored Life Christian Academy 105-93.
Hampton Christian Academy, which defeated WCA for the Metro Conference tournament championship, was ousted by No. 2 seed Christ Chapel Academy in the VISAA Division III quarterfinals.