Handley boys’ basketball clicking on all cylinders as it prepares to face G.W.-Danville in region finals

Posted: March 1, 2014

The Winchester Star

Tre’ Brown and the Judges have already clinched a state berth and hope to wrap up the 4A North Region title tonight. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — With a veteran team that’s experienced the state tournament in each of the past two seasons, the Handley boys’ basketball team certainly appears to be playing with a real sense of urgency in the postseason.

The Judges earned their third straight state tournament berth with a 61-42 victory over Loudoun County in the 4A North Region semifinals on Thursday night, and they appear to be firing on all cylinders during their playoff run.

The Judges have held all four postseason opponents to 60 points or less while averaging 70.2 points per game.

“By far this is the best we’ve played all year,” said Handley 6-foot-8 senior center Cameron Jackoson. “Just on the defensive side alone we’re doing things we haven’t done all year, and we’re shooting the ball a lot better than we have all year. I think things are just starting to click for us right now.

“We’re looking for each other more instead of trying to find our own shot. We’re trying to get each other involved in the game, and I think that’s just what’s working for us.”

Handley (19-2) has reeled off 10 consecutive victories heading into tonight’s 4A North Region championship game against George Washington-Danville (25-3) at 6 p.m. at Maddex-Omps Gymnasium.

G.W.-Danville brings an eight-game winning streak into tonight’s contest and both the Eagles and Judges share a couple of common opponents during their respective postseason runs.

The Eagles beat Carroll County 74-40 to win the Conference 24 title and then defeated Charlottesville 64-50 in the 4A North Region quarterfinals. Handley defeated Charlottesville 73-60 for the Conference 23 title, and the Judges rolled over Carroll 73-53 in the 4A North Region quarterfinals.

“I know they’re fairly tall from what I hear — 6-8, 6-7, 6-5 — and they recently got their point guard back and he’s supposedly their best player,” said Handley coach Jason Toton. “I think he’s averaging about 20 points a game and he makes a lot happen for them.”

G.W. Danville is led by Jamarcus Hairston, a 6-7 senior forward and the Conference 24 Player of the Year. Hairston scored a game-high 20 points in the Eagles’ 47-35 win over Dominion in Thursday night’s regional semifinal.

Junior guard Tamario Rodgers (5-10) also earned first team all-conference honors, and 6-6 senior forward Xavier Crews and senior guard Kowante Cobb (5-10) were both second team all-conference selections.

“From what I hear they’re a really good team, so it’s going to be a really good challenge,” said Handley senior Solomon Finley. “I think we’re a really good team but at the same time I think it’s going to be a really good game because both teams are playing really well right now.”

The top-seeded Judges get the luxury of hosting No. 3 G.W.-Danville, who must make the 232-mile trip to Winchester.

“It’s huge just not traveling how far G.W.-Danville is [from Winchester],” said Jackson, who averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game during the regular season. “It’s big because of our legs. We’ve played two games already this week and not traveling all the way down there is going to save our legs a little bit. I think it will give us a chance to make sure we’re up and doing stuff as a team during the day.”

Based on the Judges’ performance during the postseason, it appears the team’s seniors sense what’s at stake after falling in the state quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons and they want to make the most of the program’s first state semifinal berth since 2000.

“It’s a blessing to me. I know myself and the seniors have really wanted this [opportunity] because this is going to be our last year to get it done,” said Finley, who averaged 12.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists during the regular season. “We’ve played good these first two games but the most important games is the game we’re playing at that time.”

Toton said it’s a big plus having a veteran team at this point of the postseason.

“Some of the kids, especially Cameron, Solomon and Tre’ [Brown], this will be their third trip,” Toton said. “They have a taste of what it’s like and when kids get that taste of what it takes to get there that’s a good feeling to have. With good senior leaders, the other kids are buying in to experience the same thing.”

Toton said G.W. Danville — with five seniors and five juniors on its 15-man roster — presents a big challenge for his team.

“It should be a good test for us to see where we’re at,” Toton said. “If we come to play and get after it defensively, I think it’s going to be a heck of a ball game.”

Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game, both the Judges and Eagles have clinched 4A state semifinal berths. The winner gets the higher seed and a chance to host the 4A South Region runner-up Glen Allen, who lost to I.C. Norcom 52-48 in the championship game Friday night) at a supersite location closer to home.

If the Judges win tonight, they would host Glen Allen in a state semifinal game at James Madison University on March 6-8 (date and time TBA). A loss sends Handley on the road to face I.C. Norcom at Old Dominion University.

— Contact Robert Stocks at rstocks@winchesterstar.com

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