ST. GEORGE — The Blue Ridge basketball team maintained a lead throughout Wednesday night’s VISAA Division II state quarterfinal game against Norfolk Christian, but it wasn’t until the final eight minutes of the game when head coach Cade Lemcke said he felt comfortable.
“This is a tough game for us,” Lemcke said. “There’s a lot of adversity. We tell the guys that this is going to be the hardest, most draining week of basketball that they play. Hats off to Norfolk Christian, who we knew was a really good team. We knew we would get their best and credit to them for scrapping and making the game ugly early on to where we couldn’t get comfortable.”
Lemcke was able to breathe easy as the final seconds ticked off in the Barons’ 75-48 victory.
Both teams were tied at four with less than four minutes to go in the first quarter. Then Barons junior forward Andrew Nwaoko and sophomore guard Michael Gray put up four points each to give Blue Ridge a 13-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. By halftime, Blue Ridge had doubled its lead behind five points from junior point guard Will Lee and four from senior center Jaden Frazier.
Starting the second half with a 31-18 advantage, the Barons continued to extend their lead over visiting Norfolk Christian. Lee connected from behind the arc, and Gray dropped two more late treys, as Blue Ridge was up by 14 heading into the final eight minutes of the game.
“[Those three-point shots] were big, because we were having great defensive plays and the defensive plays are what really gets us going,” Gray said. “We started talking and communicating and everything started working out. We stayed together after we didn’t have a good first half, but we played good in the second half because we stayed together.”
With a little more than five minutes left to play, the Barons increased their lead to 20 points after freshman Maliq Brown contributed two and Lee scored five more of his game-high 22 points.
“We tend to get our groove by the time that the third quarter starts, and I think our physicality and just our depth started to move in the right direction,” Lemcke said. “I think Norfolk Christian got a little tired and got in foul trouble. Because of that we were able to make enough plays on both ends of the floor to just breathe a little more easily.”
Gray led the way with 22 points and seven rebounds. Lee finished with eight points; and seniors Chris Rogers and Jaden Frazier with seven points each in the victory.
The Barons advance to play No. 4 seed Middleburg Academy in the VISAA state semifinals on Friday at Virginia State University. Tip-off is slated for 3:30 p.m.
“As a coach, you start to feel pressure on yourself and you want this for these guys,” Lemcke said. “It makes you have to prepare a little harder, be a little more intense when it comes to the boys stepping onto the court and giving it their all. It’s a great feeling but not something that we take lightly...now we have another chance to go down to Petersburg and give it our best shot.”