BUCKINGHAM — With Friday’s 89-83 win in the Region 2B boys basketball semifinals, the Stuarts Draft Cougars advance to the Class 2 State Tournament and to Saturday night’s regional final against East Rockingham.
Defeating a quality opponent on its home floor is always a challenge, but the Cougars were up to it, opening up a third-quarter lead and hanging on for the win.
It was a big day for three Draft players who competed in the state indoor track meet held earlier in the day.
Latrell Fomby, Jayden Watkins and Freddie Watkins all pulled double duty and Freddie Watkins actually finished second in the state in the high jump before the basketball game.
Buckingham, out of the James River District, got a fast start, leading 16-9 before the Cougars regrouped.
“I thought it was important that we withstood that beginning,” said Stuarts Draft head coach Mike Gale. “This is a tough place to play.”
By the end of the first quarter, the Knights’ lead had been shaved to just one, 23-22.
The Cougars traded baskets with the Knights in the second quarter and the teams hit intermission knotted up at 42-all.
“That was key getting to halftime like that,” Gale said.
The Cougars’ relentless pressure finally paid off as they spurted to a 54-44 lead to begin the second half.
From there, the Draft withstood constant comeback attempts by the Knights in a game which included a fan being thrown out of the gym, a technical foul on the visitors and a wild pace, which is how the Cougars like to play.
“Sixteen guys contributed in some way tonight,” Gale said. “We were actually able to get a little lead in the third quarter.”
The Draft put 12 players in the scoring column.
At the end of the third quarter, the Cougars had stretched the lead to 67-56.
Still, the Knights weren’t ready to concede, cutting the Draft advantage back to 84-78 in the final minute.
Several of the Cougars are now competing in the state playoffs in football and basketball.
One of those, senior Kasey Branch said,”It’s every senior’s dream. I thought that we came out strong to start the second half.”
This is Coach Gale’s first trip to the state tournament as a coach.
“It’s good, but it’s good for the players,” Gale said.
Now, the Cougars must face East Rockingham, the Bull Run District champions and a 79-59 winner over Page County in tonight’s regional final. The game will be played at Spotswood High School at about 7:45 p.m.