For Blue Ridge to defend its VISAA Division 2 championship, it likely meant playing two teams for a fourth time each. The Barons came into their fourth meeting with Virginia Episcopal having won the three previous contests by 45 points. While things were close early on, when Sadaar Calhoun asserted himself in the second quarter and Darius McGhee did the same in the beginning of the fourth, the game was out of reach. With a 71-59 win to complete a season long sweep of VES, the Barons are headed back to their fourth straight state title game.
“Having gotten the better side of them three times, we knew they’d try something different,” said Blue Ridge coach Cade Lemcke. “They threw a mix of zone and man (defenses) at us and I was really proud of how our guards came out to execute. And it’s not just them, the guys all had to see the floor and make the right reads so the guards could make the right reads.”
With things at 14-10 going into the second quarter, Blue Ridge saw VES guards Jaelen Llewellyn and Alex Decker doing all they could to eliminate McGhee’s role offensively. That opened the door for Calhoun who put together a 7-0 run on his own to make it 21-10 and given the Barons a nice cushion to work with.
“I just had to be a playmaker,” Calhoun said. “Once I feel a defense slack off that’s a great opportunity for me to step up as a leader. Being here for two years and that’s one of the greatest gifts, when a defense slacks off. I had to take advantage of that.”
From their, Blue Ridge leaned on Jaden Frazier in the paint. The senior picked up six paints and drew plenty of fouls to put VES in foul trouble. The Barons entered the fourth up 43-28 feeling pretty good about it’s defensive performance with Myles Jones and McGhee holding Llewellyn to just eight points.
“Defense is our identity and we stress that everyday in practice,” Lemcke said. “We counted the other day and we’ve had 44 practices. In those 44, we calculated that nearly 80% of that time was spent on defense. To have things come together like that against a great team in a great environment, I thought that was big. It wasn’t just the guy guarding the ball, and Myles and Darius were phenomenal at that. But the help side was their. I mean Xavier Kane didn’t take a shot but he was always in the right place defensively, had a couple of steals and had a great game. That’s what you want to reward at this time of the year. Giving minutes to guys that want to make stops.”
A window opened up for another prolific scorer in McGhee to start the fourth and he went crazy with it. With a trio of 3-pointers and a pair of free throws, McGhee scored 11 straight for Blue Ridge and made it a 55-33 game with 4:46 to go.
“We started making plays in the third quarter and then everything just opened up,” McGhee said. “We talked about how we were being guarded, how the bigs were open a lot early. Once we started getting them the ball and they scored it opened things up for us. We just started pushing in transition too.”
The Barons were able to work their bench in from their and Llewellyn smelled the blood and was able to make the score much more respectable as he knocked down five 3-pointers on five attempts to allow VES to try and foul its way back into the game and give him a game high 26 points. But Blue Ridge held serve and the game never was closer in the fourth than the final score.
For Blue Ridge, McGhee finished with 20 points with 17 of them coming in the second half and 13 of those coming in the limited minutes he had in the fourth quarter. Calhoun finished with 10 points. Myles Jones chipped in nine points. Frazier had 16 points.
“Jaden’s big game, that’s all because of big reads,” Lemcke said. “He made the read and the passers got him the ball. I thought he finished well around the rim and made a lot of free throws.
The Barons now will face Miller for a fourth time this year, the eighth time in the last two seasons, but most importantly, for the second time in the state title game. This year the Mavericks have won all three meetings by a combine 20 points with the last one, a VIC championship game last week, coming down to a last shot scenario.
“If you ask (Miller coach Danny Manuel whether he’d rather win the three games prior or win this game tomorrow he’s going to say tomorrow means more than anything,” Lemcke said. “It’s the same with our guys. It’s a chance for these seniors to leave a great legacy and to play for that name on their jersey.”
Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. A win would give Blue Ridge three state title in a four year span.