The Peninsula area is enjoying a banner basketball season, with 10 public and four private schools advancing to state tournaments. We begin our week of coverage by offering five topics of interest among the teams advancing to state play.
WILL SASCHA STAFFORD PLAY FOR SMITHFIELD?
The Packers made an incredible run to the 4A East Region final minus first-team All-Bay Rivers District pick Stafford, who injured his ankle early in the Conference 18 semifinal. They rallied to beat Heritage in the conference semi, avenging an earlier 34-point loss to the Hurricanes to qualify for the regional.
Then, after losing a thrilling 65-64 conference final at Jamestown, where their buzzer-beater fell short, the Packers won two memorable regional tournament games. Keon Tucker made a shot from beyond half-court to put the Packers in the 4A state tournament with a 61-60 win at Lake Taylor, then converted a four-point play with four seconds remaining to give them a 67-66 win at Hanover in the regional semifinals.
But you can't go forever and sustain that level without a guy like Stafford, a 6-foot-4 forward who averaged 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Packers coach Richard Pullen does not rule out a return by Stafford in the Packers state quarterfinal on Friday against William Fleming at the Salem Civic Center. Smithfield is likely to be competitive regardless, but Stafford's presence could lift them to title-contender status.
DON'T IGNORE THE SMALLER SCHOOLS
Schools like Williamsburg Christian Academy and Surry County don't receive the attention that Bay Rivers District and Peninsula District entrants do during the regular season. State tournaments are an opportunity for the small schools to step into the limelight, and the WCA boys and Cougars girls have a chance to do that in a big way.
With guard Cle'Von Greene, arguably the Peninsula area's top talent in the fold, WCA is a threat to win the VISAA Division 3 boys state crown. Explosive slasher Greene (26.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg), 6-9 center Chester Makoi (11.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and backcourt twins DaShawn Cook and RaShawn Cook (15.3 ppg, 3.3 apg) and (10.5 ppg, 3.5 apg) have played key roles in the Eagles' 23 wins that include one over 5A state tournament participant Hampton.
Surry County's girls have won 27 of 28 games with a lineup that includes a 6-5 Division I (Coastal Carolina) recruit in Brianna Jones (17.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg) and an experienced point guard in Jasmyn Pierce (15.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, 4.5 spg). Throw in five talented freshmen to a rotation 10 deep and the Cougars could run and press to a first state title since the 2009-10 season.
IS JAMESTOWN POISED FOR A STATE TITLE?
One week, Jamestown won its first conference title. The next week, the Eagles won their first regional title. Will a Group 4A state title trophy be the next accomplishment?
Second-year coach Donovan Bridgeforth predicted as much after the team beat one perennial state power (Norcom) in the Hampton Roads Fall League and darned near beat another (John Marshall). The Eagles have justified his confidence with 25 wins in 27 games, a 48-47 loss to a powerhouse Bethel team they outplayed for all but two final minutes.
The state tournament stage isn't likely to faze backcourt twins Mason Wang (17.8 ppg) and Evan Wang (16.2 ppg), who have made clutch plays look routine. Point guard Ryan Jones has run the offense superbly while shutting down the opposition's best guard regularly, Michael Schmidt has been steady inside, and wings Diamonte Brown and Ryan Devine have emerged as two of the team's biggest inside-outside threats in the postseason.
The great balance between offense, defense and depth should make the Eagles a threat in Salem.
HAMPTON, BETHEL COULD FACE HIGH-STAKES REMATCH
The season-long battle for dominance between the Bruins and the Crabbers finally could be decided in a Group 5A state semifinal matchup.
The two city rivals jostled for the top spot in PenSouth Conference 10 all season, but call the final result a draw. Bethel took home the regular season title, but Hampton beat Bethel in the conference tournament championship.
While the Bruins (22-5) avenged that loss with a victory against the Crabbers (22-6) in the 5A South regional semifinal, the season series stands at a 2-2 tie heading into the state tournament.
If Bethel and Hampton win their quarterfinal matchups this Friday at Hampton University, the two squads would face off in one final grudge match at 7:45 p.m. Saturday in their hometown with a spot in the state championship game on the line.
CAN PHOEBUS' STREAK CONTINUE?
After a middling regular season, the Phantoms (18-9) have reeled off five straight wins en route to a Conference 27 championship, a 3A East regional championship and a No. 1 seed in the Group 3A state tournament.
Yet while the first three wins in their streak came in convincing fashion, the Phantoms danced on the edge in both their regional semifinal win at John Marshall and their regional final at home against George Wythe.
John Marshall held a piece of the lead with three minutes remaining, George Wythe with two minutes remaining before grit, a bit of luck and a whole lot of Phoebus junior Antwan Miles powered the Phantoms to the finish in each contest. Miles averaged 30 points across each of the two games.
Phoebus (18-9) will make a point to rest and recuperate this week ahead of their state quarterfinal against Western Albemarle (21-7) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Siegel Center, coach James Daniel said. The Phantoms will need every piece of energy they can spare to keep their streak alive.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963. Yanchulis can be reached by phone at 757-298-5176.
VISAA Division II girls: Isle of Wight (14-7) at Highland (19-9), time TBA
VISAA Division II girls: Southampton Academy (9-8) at Walsingham 910-14) at 5 p.m.
VISAA Division II boys: St. Anne's (15-11) at Walsingham (19-10) at 6:30 p.m.
3A girls at VCU Siegel Center: Tabb (20-7) vs. Hidden Valley (22-5) at 5:15, Warhill (20-5) vs. Brookville (26-1) at 7 p.m.
VISAA Division III boys: Life Christian/Richmond Christian at Williamsburg Christian (23-8) at 7 p.m.
3A boys at VCU Siegel Center: Western Albemarle (21-7) vs. Phoebus (18-9) at 3:30 p.m.
1A girls at Virginia High in Bristol: Surry County (27-1) vs. Eastside (16-12) at 3 p.m.
5A boys at HU Convocation Center: Hampton (22-6) vs. Potomac (23-2) at 6 p.m., Wakefield (22-5) vs. Bethel (22-5) at 7:45 p.m.
4A boys at Salem Civic Center: William Fleming (20-7) vs. Jamestown (25-2) at 2:30, GW-Danville (22-5) vs. Smithfield (22-5) at 7:45.
2A boys at JMU: Bruton (10-16) vs. Dan River (20-3) at 6 p.m.
1A boys at Virginia High in Bristol: Mathews (18-8) vs. Radford (23-5).