Final Three in the Final Four: 2019 VHSL State Semifinal Previews

Photos by Brian Mellott and Bart Isley

Class 4 VHSL State Boys Basketball Tournament

Semifinals: Louisa County (25-4) versus Lake Taylor (12-14) at Churchland High School

The Basics: Louisa County just keeps rolling, blowing past Churchland High in the state quarterfinals Friday to earn this opportunity to play their way into a state championship game appearance. Chris Shelton lit it up last week in the win over Churchland, pouring in 3-pointers early to give the Lions a cushion right out of the gate. If Shelton is shooting the way he has been much of the season, Louisa is particularly difficult to beat. But their depth and tenacity on defense allow them to survive his rare off nights too because Jarett and Xavien Hunter can put the ball on the floor and drive to finish or kick it out while Isaac Haywood, Mark Carter and Shylek Washington clean up on the boards. Finding a way to beat the Lions is exceedingly difficult as Region 4B and then Churchland found out. The team also benefits from a number of athletes like the Hunters, Carter and Reggie Cosby who also play football, and just seem to know what it takes to win games. They know what kind of effort and attention to detail that requires, and with Shelton also bringing that same approach it’s clear that focus and preparation are a big part of what has taken them this far. Now they face a Lake Taylor team that has been on a magical run through the playoffs after finishing the regular season 7-14. Lake Taylor has won five-straight games to earn a spot in the state semifinals. They’re a dangerous, red-hot squad, the defending state champions, though they replaced the entire starting five from that team. Perhaps Louisa’s consistency throughout the year gives them the edge here.

Key Matchup: Louisa’s zone tries to contain Lake Taylor point guard Zyrail Mitchell. Mitchell is a 6-foot-2 lead guard who already has an offer from Hampton University. The Lions have mostly stuck with their 1-3-1 zone with Shelton at the top wreaking havoc, most of the year. That also requires Isaac Haywood, usually, to run the baseline. Two crafty, big-time athletes like that at the top and bottom also allow the players in the middle to take some risks, so look for them to try and force Mitchell into quicker decisions with quick pressure or a trap. Mitchell is the Region 4A player of the year too, so he’ll be a big test for the Lions.

Who to watch: Louisa County’s Xavien Hunter. Hunter was a second team All-Region 4B and second team All-Jefferson District pick, but that’s likely in part a product of Shelton and Jarett Hunter being first team picks. When you’re as good and deep as the Lions’ are, that can happen. But Buck, as he’s referred to by everyone who doesn’t have to write his name, is a second team player in label only. Coach Robert Shelton has described him as the squad’s toughest player and the junior can do a little bit of everything, knocking down 3-pointers or driving and attacking. He’s emerged this year as a complete player, taking a massive step forward on the court. Lake Taylor will have their hands full with Hunter.

The line: Louisa County by 3. Lake Taylor’s Cinderella run of a state title defense likely ends here while the Lions advance to the school’s first state final title game since 1994.



Class 3 VHSL State Girls Basketball Tournament

Semifinals: William Monroe (22-2) versus Hopewell (23-2) at Petersburg High, 7 p.m.

The Basics: The framework for this one is pretty clear. William Monroe and Hopewell, a rematch from the state quarterfinals last year where Hopewell rolled 62-41 over the Dragons. The Dragons have been on a mission since losing this one a year ago, intent on getting another shot at making a run to the state title. And Monroe has overcome some serious adversity, losing Sam Brunelle for more than eight weeks to her foot injury. Now, Brunelle is back after her teammates carried the load and they’re one win away from uncharted territory for the program. Monroe is at it’s best offensively when they’re driving and trying to create before kicking to open shooters. Settling for threes, like with a lot of teams, is their biggest enemy and they’ll have to avoid it. Especially because if last year was any indication, Hopewell is going to try and supercharge the tempo. With Bryonna Woofter in the mix at point guard, the Dragons are better suited to handle Hopewell’s pressure and pace, but there’s still no question that Monroe is going to have to try and dictate some of the flow too. If the Dragons can learn from last year, they’ve got the talent and willpower to have a shot.

Key Matchup: Monroe’s defense tries to handle Hopewell’s big three. Courtney Scott, Messiah Hunter and Tyjana Simmons. With three players averaging more than 14.5 points per game, it’s clear that Hopewell is dynamic and versatile offensively. Hunter averges 15.3 points and 7.5 boards per game while Scott fills up the stat sheet with 15.3 points, 6.3 boards and 3.1 assists and Simmons has 14.6 points and 4.2 assists per game. That’s a lot of weapons to contend with. Shut one down, the other is liable to burn you. But Monroe has hung its hat on team defense all year, so this will test their foundation. A little bit of strength on strength.

Who to watch: William Monroe’s Iyanna Carey. Carey has expanded her role as the team’s sparkplug this year, and even when she isn’t in the box score, she’s usually had a major impact on the game. Whether it’s fighting for a loose ball or creating a tie-up or coming up with a hard-fought rebound, Carey is the kind of player who’s worth at least one or two or more extra possessions per game. With a host of players capable of handling the scoring load, she can provide the kind of extra effort type plays that turn a good team into a championship team.

The line: William Monroe by 1. A little bit of a feeling of destiny with this Monroe team with Brunelle’s return. Can the Dragons get redemption?



Class 2 VHSL State Boys Basketball Tournament

Semifinals: Goochland (23-3) versus East Rockingham (25-4) at Mills Godwin

The Basics: This is uncharted territory for the Bulldogs’ program, who’ve won 21 in a row, as the squad has reached the state final four for the first time in school history. What’s funny though is that while the celebration the court was jubilant after the quarterfinal win over George Mason, the Bulldogs were all business in the locker room. The vibe was “We’re On to East Rock”, to borrow from New England’s Bill Belichick. That’s a good sign that Goochland isn’t going to be infected with the “just happy to be here” syndrome, a product of coach Preston Gordon and his staff setting the tone and the carryover from winning programs in football and baseball throughout the department. The task is quite literally tall though as they face a pair of 6-foot-6 standouts in Tyler Nickel and Dalton Jefferson, who are tough to mark offensively. The Bulldogs could be at a distinct disadvantage there, but they’ve got a number of guys like region player of the year Deion Harwood who play a lot bigger than what they’re listed at — think heart over height. It’s going to require Goochland’s guards including Quincy Snead crashing which they’ve done all year long. It’s also probably going to require a solid effort from 6-foot-5 freshman James Bell, who has been a big help against two other squads with tall threats in Cumberland and Brunswick. Make no mistake though, the Bulldogs are going to be ready.

Key Matchup: East Rock contends with Harwood. Harwood has been flat out brilliant in the postseason, and the Region 2A player of the year was pretty darn good in the regular season. He exploded for 22 points and 16 boards in the quarterfinal win over Mason, and how East Rockingham decides to approach trying to deal with him is going to play a big role in how Goochland goes to work offensively and on the boards. If they opt to try and shut him off, he’s likely going to need some help. Lucky for him he’s got some help in Snead and Holman.

Who to watch: Goochland’s Kam Holman. Holman has been a key part of this unprecedented run for the Bulldogs. He chipped in 12 points against George Mason, giving the Bulldogs that third offensive option they need along with Harwood and Snead. If Holman keeps playing the way he has of late, East Rockingham is going to have a lot of different facets to contend with.

The line: Goochland by 3. The Bulldogs may give up some serious height here, but they’ve been making up for a lack of height all year with toughness.