FOREST — There’s more work to do for the George Washington Eagles, who carried high expectations into Tuesday’s game at Jefferson Forest. But for now, the Danville squad is pleased.
“You can’t get a ring unless you get a shot to win it,” said Kapone Barley, a guard on the GW squad.
Barley, in his senior season, hopes to pick up a second piece of jewelry in the next couple weeks. A year ago, he and his teammates captured the first state championship for GW in more than two decades. And after a 47-43 win Tuesday against JF — the team the Eagles’ playoff road always seems to go through — GW has its shot.
With a third-quarter run, and by doing enough defensively in the fourth quarter of the Region 4D semifinal game, the Eagles locked in a spot for the upcoming Class 4 state tournament and kept their season alive.
“They are tough. They’re a tough unit,” third-year GW coach Jermaine Parker said of the Cavaliers. “But I told our guys … ‘Whoever wants it more is gonna be the one that wins it.'”
Jefferson Forest didn’t lie down, but the Cavs couldn’t string together stops or knock down shots in crunch time. Forest, in the fourth quarter, missed four straight 3-point attempts before finally hitting an inconsequential triple at the buzzer.
GW (19-7) left the door open by missing 10 free throws in the frame.
“They really didn’t focus through mentally, and that’s something we’ve gotta work on,” Parker said of his squad, which finished 8 of 20 from the line.
On the other end, though, GW’s toughness showed up on the boards. The Eagles owned the defensive boards late, turning JF’s possessions into one-and-done trips.
“Coach Parker always preaches rebounding. Boxing out is literally a drill we work on at practice — maybe twice at practice sometimes,” Barley said. “… Coach Parker made sure to say, ‘All five players on the team, make sure you crash defensive glass.’”
The senior finished with six rebounds to go with a team-high 12 points, two of which came during an important stretch with less than three minutes to go. After JF cut the GW lead to 42-39, the Eagles responded with three points in the next minute. Taevon Walden hit a free throw after he was fouled on a putback attempt, and Barley knocked down both ends of a 1-and-1.
The few points gave GW the breathing room it needed as it held on to a two-possession lead the rest of the way.
Caleb Eckart, who led Jefferson Forest with 12 points, scored six points in the fourth to keep Jefferson Forest in the game.
“We battled back,” first-year JF coach Jeff Monroe said. “This is a good team, and against a team like GW, you can’t afford to give them a lot of opportunities. We gave them some opportunities, and we didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had.”
Five of Eckart’s other six points came on back-to-back baskets in the third quarter, when GW outscored JF 14-5 in a stretch of about five minutes that gave the Eagles the lead for good.
No one else on the JF roster tallied double-figure point totals. Joseph Peters, who typically has a huge advantage over area opponents with his 6-foot-8 frame, didn’t score for the Cavs thanks to GW’s 3-1-1 defense, which strategically took away options in the middle of the lane.
“We do try to focus on that,” Parker said. “… I studied the film and worked the game plan, and proud of my guys for pushing through and executing.”
Neither team shot particularly well, but Jefferson Forest also wishes it could have gotten back some easy shots at the rim.
“We had some easy shots early; we missed some easy shots early,” said Monroe, who spent extra time comforting his team after the loss.
GW, for the second straight year, is responsible for ending JF’s season. A year ago, the Eagles bounced the Cavaliers in the state semifinals, but JF — which lost all five of last year’s starters to graduation —exceeded expectations this year, Monroe said, finishing with an 18-8 record.
“Nobody saw those guys doing what they did this year,” he said. “… To see this group come along through the year, it was really good. … Those guys laid it on the line for us.”
Shakobe Hairston finished as the Eagles’ second-leading scorer with eight points and added a game-high 11 rebounds. For Jefferson Forest, Mike Green had six points and six rebounds, and Adam Hogsed had seven points.
Up next for GW is top-seeded Halifax, which edged fourth-seeded E.C. Glass in the other semifinal Tuesday night. The Eagles and Comets will meet in the Region 4D championship in Halifax on Friday. A start time has not yet been announced.