If the first weekend of Hanover’s season is any indication, absolutely nothing will come easy this year for the Hawks.
After surviving a furious Midlothian comeback in Wednesday’s opener and prevailing despite a poor shooting night against Tucker Friday, Hanover would have to get past the host Glen Allen Jaguars to win the Conference 20 Boys Tip-Off Tournament.
And, as expected, the game was nip and tuck, back and forth, and before it was over, they needed extra time. But the Hawks did what they’ve done all week – survived. Hanover defeated the Jaguars 56-53 to win the inaugural tourney.
As it had been all tournament long, Jalen Elliott and Cutch Ellis came up clutch when it mattered most. It was a 53-53 tie with a minute left in the extra session. Hanover got the ball, and Elliott found Ellis who hit the eventual game-winning bucket. The Jaguars would miss their chance to tie or take the lead, and were forced to foul. Josh Harris hit one of two free throws, and one defensive stop later, the Hawks were champions.
“The guys are really starting to take pride in getting stops on defense,” said Hanover head coach Darren Thornton. “They’re realizing our depth and defense is something that we have to bring every game.”
Thornton credited the Jaguars for their discipline and toughness, noting his young men had to stay mentally focused for every possession.
“The team did a great job stepping up in the lane to stop their penetration, in which Jalen Elliott and Tavon Weatherless took some critical charges,” Thornton explained.
Hanover was 3-0 when they hosted Patrick Henry Wednesday night in their official home opener, played after press deadline.
Meanwhile, at Douglas Freeman at the Rebel Invitational Championship, the Atlee Raiders looked to capitalize on the momentum received by upsetting the host Rebels in Friday’s semifinals 64-60. After Freeman took a 60-57 lead in the final minute, Brian Miller scored the last three of his game-high 32 points on a trey to tie it. Then sophomore speedster Andrew Foster stole the ball at mid-court, drawing a foul on the subsequent drive. Foster would go on to hit four straight free throws on an eventual two trips to the line to post the margin of victory.
In the finals, the Raiders faced a taller, quick, disciplined St. Christopher’s, a team they scrimmaged recently.
And, though they played better against the Saints than in scrimmage action, it wasn’t enough. The Saints shut down Brian Miller over three quarters, utilized a masterful trap pressure scheme, and ran away in the middle quarters to defeat the Raiders for the tournament title, 66-51.
R.J. Jenkins led Atlee with 16 points. For Miller, seven of his 13 points came in the final quarter with the outcome little in doubt. Miller was named to the All-Tournament team. He remembers the frustrations of so few wins last season, and, despite Saturday’s outcome, was happy about what the Rebel Invitational experience means to his young teammates.
“It’s big for our team, big for our program to start off strong in a strong tournament,” Miller noted courtside.
His head coach, Phil Reynolds, agreed.
“It’s incredible,” he said, noting that the win against Freeman was his first against a pedigree program during his time at Atlee. “We went 0-3 last year here, Freeman beat us by something like 35, so our kids are pumped up.”
The Raiders will go deep this season, and with Reid McCoy and Travis Barton only having two practices with the team since football season ended, once they end the learning curve, the depth only gets stronger. McCoy will especially be counted on inside for a team lacking in height.
A healthy Ross Gardner will bring height and critical game experience back to the team. Gardner, who missed most of the football season with a foot injury, could be back by the new year.
Tournament MVP Nick Sherod of St. Christopher’s led the Saints with 22 points. The Saints go to 3-0 with wins over Albemarle (a fellow Conference 16 member with Patrick Henry in 5A North), Mills Godwin, and Atlee, all by double digits.
The schedule only gets tougher for the Raiders, as they have their home opener Friday versus Highland Springs, travel to Varina on Tuesday, and host the Hanover Hawks Thursday, Dec. 19.