Dreams of another state basketball championship for T.C. Williams died Wednesday, dashed in overtime at the hands of a resurgent L.C. Bird team in the Virginia High School League semifinal game.
A team known for their slow starts, the Titans hit the Siegel Center court with all cylinders firing. Smothering on one half of the court, fiery on the other, T.C. easily took a 15-9 lead by the end of the first eight minutes of play.
Nearing the half with a 32-24 cushion, Tyrell Sitton, Jamal Pullen and company looked ready for a shot at another state title. Junior guard Daquan Kerman rose to the occasion, keeping the offense on pace while engineering a few tight scores in his spare time.
Senior Rick Mathews, a standout for the Titans during the postseason, didnt disappoint either, towering over the Skyhawks to find basket after basket. Despite struggling in recent games, Sitton came to play. The senior and veteran team leader lit up the court on both sides of the ball.
Dont forget Pullen or junior forward TJ Huggins, both of whom made their presence felt on the court early with deft shooting and oppressive defensive play.
Heading into the locker room for the halftime break, the only complaint to be made about T.C. was the amount of fouls they had picked up along the way. A struggling and seemingly beleaguered Skyhawk squad had failed to find their way past the Titans defense and couldnt make a shot from the free throw line.
And then everything changed.
The Skyhawks picked up their pace in the third quarter, whittling down the Titans lead once at 11 points to seven, five and then four. T.C. slowed down, passes were broken up, transitions were sloppy and L.C. Bird wasnt about to make any mistakes.
The high-water mark came with the Titans leading 42-40 in the fourth quarter.
Following a pitched battle for possession beneath T.C.s basket, Huggins had a solid look at a 2-point shot. The ball arced, fell toward the rim and popped back out, into the hands of the Skyhawks. They quickly tied the game at 42.
A visibly flagging yet determined T.C. squad kept L.C. Bird from building anything more than a two-point lead, and as the seconds ticked off the game clock, Pullen sunk a pair of critical free throws to keep the Titans season alive for a few more minutes.
Four minutes, exactly.
Though the Titans fought to regain their defensive prowess from the first half, they couldnt keep the Skyhawks from making critical 3-pointers for a berth in the state tournament championship game. When the buzzer sounded in overtime, the Skyhawks were celebrating a 60-54 win.
For a T.C. team saddled with such low expectations heading into the season and weighed down by the stain of the previous years ineligibility scandal, there wasnt much left to prove.
Patriot District champions, AAA Northern Region champions and state tournament semifinalists, the 25-6 Titans left Richmond a game short of competing for Virginia high school basketballs triple crown.