By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
For four quarters and one period of overtime on January 2, the Bishop Ireton boys basketball team stayed well within striking distance of the undefeated and highly regarded D.C. powerhouse H.D. Woodson but came up just short, losing 63-62.
In the end, the game came down to free throws, as Woodson guard Kiyon Boyd held his nerve in the closing stages of overtime, first putting the Warriors ahead 62-60 with two buckets from the charity stripe, then draining another free throw with just 0.1 seconds left on the clock to make the score 63-62 after Darius Hines tied the game.
The victory kept Woodson unbeaten, but it was by the skin of their teeth against a determined Ireton side, which fell to 5-9 overall.
“What we told our team at the end of the game is that while we were very disappointed in the outcome, we’re very proud of the effort,” said Cardinals head coach Neil Berkman. “We competed and competed … With a young group really coming together and competing, it’s very disappointing but encouraging on the same level.”
The two sides came together to play at Uptown Hoopfest, one of a myriad of holiday hoops tournaments and one which featured teams from D.C. and Maryland, with Ireton the only Virginia representative. Hosted by Woodrow Wilson High School, the Warriors and Cardinals played to packed bleachers, with fans coming from all over the area to take in the action.
Hines led the way for Ireton with 22 points, while Nick Schmelzer tallied 14 points and Jamie Pasha added 12.
“It was a tough loss,” said Hines. “We played well, came out with energy and didn’t come out scared.”
Spectators were not disappointed by a riveting four quarters. Boyd and senior forward Antwan Walker, both of whom are fielding numerous scholarship offers from Division I schools, led the charge for the D.C. side but came up against a stout Ireton defense. At the end of the first quarter, Woodson only led 13-11, and the margin was 23-20 in favor of the Warriors when the halftime buzzer sounded.
“Our defense has been with us all year long and really doesn’t let us down,” Berkman said. “It’s very underrated. We mix up our defenses a lot with playing a little zone, a little [man-to-man], and we’re getting tougher as the year goes on.”
In the third quarter, Woodson started to pull away as its offense began to hit more shots. A 10-0 run put the Warriors ahead 41-31 in what was the biggest lead of the game, with 7 of those points coming from Walker, who also showed his abilities on defense as he blocked several shots. But that seemed to re-ignite the Cardinals, who charged back into contention with 6 unanswered points to only trail 41-37 at the start of the fourth quarter.
The pace and intensity increased as Ireton continued to gather momentum, and went ahead 46-43 with less than 5 minutes remaining in regulation. Then, with just 41 seconds remaining, Ireton’s William Barth hit a 3-point shot to put his side up 52-51. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, with 8.3 seconds left on the clock, Boyd got himself to the foul line once more and hit one of his two shots to force overtime.
In the extra period, Woodson managed to hold on for the win, led by Boyd and Walker, who finished the game with 19 points, and 18 points and 8 rebounds respectively. Meanwhile, Ireton was left to lament several missed free throws and other wasted opportunities. It was a consolation that they managed to prevent their highly regarded opponents from running away with a comfortable victory.
“Our goal is to take the other team out of their practice habits,” Berkman said. “What we wanted to do was slow it down a little bit and we wanted to play a methodical game of basketball and shrink the possessions so each possession was more valuable, and that way we have a chance to hang around and hang around and have a chance to steal one at the end of the game.”
The disappointment was obvious, but Ireton’s players agreed the experience of playing one of the best teams in the region in a full gym was a good exercise, especially with a strong schedule of games to come, including the rest of its slate in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
“I think it was a very good test for us mentally and physically to play a good team like this and come up short,” said Pasha. “I thought we did a great job.”
“We’re a young team, meaning that we haven’t all played together before and we’re all juniors, and it’s a three-year team project and we’re on year two of that, so we’re about a year away,” Berkman said. “It’s very encouraging to know that we can compete with the H.D. Woodsons of the world.”