Tidewater Academy headed to title game

Published 7:06 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

ETTRICK—It was one for the ages. Down by a point with 43.6 seconds to play and without the ball, Tidewater Academy scored three points in the final 3.7 seconds to beat North Cross 57-55 in the semifinals of the VISAA Division III boys’ basketball tournament Friday at Virginia State University.

The Warriors now advance to Saturday’s state championship game at 1:30 p.m. at Virginia State against Isle of Wight Academy (see other story). It is the first time TA has reached the state championship game in five years.

Despite holding the number four rank in the state, North Cross was favored in the game and had a big height advantage. However, from the beginning, it appeared the Raiders did not take the game seriously, trying behind-the-back passes and alley oops at inopportune times.

North Cross led by as many as seven points as late as 6:48 in the fourth quarter when Sam Lawrence scored on an inside bucket and converted a free throw. TA was able to chip away the lead. With 43.6 seconds to play, Will Doyle picked up a loose ball and fed Tommie Starkes for a layup to cut the North Cross lead to 55-54.

Instead of bringing the ball down the court and burning the clock, inexplicably, North Cross’s Jerome Hairston took a jumper with 35 seconds and missed.

Tidewater’s Austin Westbrook was fouled with 22.3 seconds to play, but the Warriors turned the ball over on the inbounds. With 17.8 seconds to play, North Cross’s Hairston missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Warriors life.

With 3.7 seconds to play, Starkes drove the lane and was fouled by Brandon Trent. Starkes sunk the first free throw to tie the game at 55-55, but missed the second attempt. Mike Greene grabbed the rebound and put the ball back in the hoop with two seconds to play to put TA up 57-55. North Cross missed a desperation shot at the end, and the Tidewater fans erupted onto the court in celebration.

“Green and (Casey) Rickmond have an uncanny ability to get offensive rebounds off of free throws,” said Walter Westbrook, TA head coach. “I was hoping that Greene was going to make it.”

There was a sense in the building that North Cross was not taking the game seriously, at least early in the contest. The Raiders had a distinct height advantage and have two players, and possibly a third, that have signed with NCAA Division I schools for the fall.

“I wouldn’t say I felt like the underdog, but I knew it was going to be a challenge with their height,” Westbrook said, “and it proved their height was tough for us to defend.”

In the first quarter, while North Cross showboated and joked around for much of the period, Tidewater Academy was cold from the field and looked intimidated at times. North Cross, however, could not capitalize. TA had several blocked shots and steals.

The Warriors came out quick with a 4-0 lead on layups by Starkes and Casey Rickmond. But the North Cross defense tightened up and the Raiders took a 13-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Despite the height disadvantage, Tidewater was able to hang in the second quarter. In danger of dropping out of the contest early when North Cross took a 29-16 lead on a dunk by A.D. Banks at the 3:03 mark, the Warriors scored five straight to get back in the game. Rickmond, who had missed several 3-point attempts in the first half, hit a jumper and Starkes followed with a 3-ball with 1:58 in the half to cut the Raiders’ lead to 29-21. North Cross kept the lead at eight at the half.

In the third quarter, Tidewater again was in danger of falling out of the contest. North Cross scored the first four points of the third quarter to go up 38-26. But Tidewater rallied to score eight straight points and cut the North Cross lead to 38-34 on a drive by Starkes with 4:02 to play in the quarter. But the Raiders closed out the period with an eight point lead.

The Warriors were able to chip the lead down, and Will Doyle had six crucial points in the fourth quarter.

“I’ve been after him (Doyle) to shoot the basketball,” Westbrook said. “He’s been a great teammate. He’s done a terrific job in the middle of the defense for me.”

Starkes finished the game with 24 points, Rickmond scored 15 points, and Greene added 10 points for TA.