ETTRICK — Cade Lemcke preached the importance of “owning the moment” to his Blue Ridge School basketball team this year as they geared up for another Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state title run.
The Barons seized that mantra during the second half and beyond Saturday afternoon as they rallied from a double-digit second half deficit to earn a 61-53 victory over Miller and claim their second state title in three years.
“The big thing was to just trying to let those guys know, own this next moment, own this next possession,” Lemcke said. “Don’t think back to when this possession is over and wonder, ‘Did I really give it my all and the spirit that I needed to give?’ and just that constant reminder that our life is full of a bunch of moments. This game was full of moments, and if you’re owning that moment and leaving it out there on the floor, you don’t know what’s going to happen and our guys made some big plays down the stretch and put us in position to go to overtime and position to win the game.”
Things didn’t look good for the Barons early on. Dae Dae Heard scored 12 points and Tariq Balogun added nine more as Miller, the reigning Division II state champion, built a 33-18 lead with 3:55 left in the third quarter.
Despite the deficit, Blue Ridge seemed unfazed.
“We’re a second half team,” said senior point guard Chris Rogers, who finished with 13 points. “Each game we play, if we’re in the game at halftime, it’s going to be our game because of [our fitness] and how deep we are, so if we come out and pressure the ball the whole 40 minutes of the game, it’s just in our favor. If we get to the second half, our defensive pressure is going to start wearing on the other team.”
Blue Ridge (28-6) responded with a 21-9 run, including a 3-pointer from Michael Gray (15 points, six rebounds, three assists), to close the gap to 42-39 with 1:08 left in regulation. On the ensuing possession, the Mavericks’ Daryl Anderson grabbed a rebound and was thrown to the floor, resulting in a technical foul. Miller (22-8) made just 1-of-3 attempts from the charity stripe to stretch the lead to 43-39.
The Barons didn’t panic. Gray intercepted a pass at half court and turned it into a three-point play to trim the lead to 43-42 with 37.2 seconds left. Lemcke’s team fouled on the ensuing possession and the Mavericks against made one of two shots to take a two-point lead.
Rogers pushed the ball up the floor and dished it off to Maliq Brown in the lane. The freshman forward’s shot bounced off the back of the rim, but Savion Helm (18 points, six rebounds) pounced on the loose ball and was fouled on his put back attempt with 3.2 seconds left and his team down by two.
It rekindled another moment for Helm.
“I was really nervous,” Helm said. “Earlier this year, we faced Woodrow Wilson and I had free throws to try and tie the game and I missed all three. I just thought back to that moment and I thought this is like redemption. That was in my mind, I prayed, and they went in.”
The senior calmly sank both free throws to tie the game at 44-44. Miller had one final chance in regulation, but Jordon Brown’s 60-foot heave hit at the top of the backboard and bounced off the front of the rim as time expired.
Senior captain Jaden Frazier, who finished with five points and six rebounds, was pleased with the way his team battled back to extend the game.
“It was definitely difficult,” he said. “They came out firing and they were ready to go. We matched their intensity late and I’m very proud of our guys.”
In the extra session, free throws were the difference as Blue Ridge sank 9 of 10 from the stripe, including four straight from Rogers to build a 54-48 lead with 1:08 left in regulation.
Helm put an exclamation point on the victory on the ensuing possession with a steal and dunk for the Barons’ only field goal in the extra session.
“They were dogging us in the first half, and it was just a dog fight, so it was all about who wanted it more,” Helm said. “We worked so hard this year and just the countless hours in the gym and that’s what pushed me really was my teammates that I really love.”
The camaraderie on the team was evident after the game as each player and coach shared hugs and even a few tears in celebration of another state championship.
“It definitely makes it special,” Frazier said. “Coach [Lemcke] said before the game that it’s the moments that matter and this is definitely a special moment for us.”
This was Frazier’s fourth trip to the state championship game and his second state title. Lemcke said the victory was a reward for a very dedicated and talented senior class that including Dhruv Mehrota, Ernesto Torres, Rogers, Helm and manager Keane Emmonds-McGill.
“Our seniors have been a huge foundation for us,” he said. “That nucleus of guys that have won big games and lost big games. They were here on this stage last year and were on the other end and loss, but the leadership that they’ve shown from March 3 last year to today has been tremendous. That’s the reason we were back and a reason why [the game] was never over going through the game today.”
Rogers couldn’t agree more.
“It’s crazy, I love all these guys,” Rogers said. “We spent so much time together, whether it be on the court or off the court, these guys and the coaching staff mean so much to me. It’s everybody’s win. I’m glad for the seniors, but it’s really everybody’s win because we wouldn’t be here without everyone on the team and the Lord above.”