First Battle: Blue Ridge beats Miller in series opener

Photo by Bart Isley

Blue Ridge’s boys basketball knows this is just the beginning.


“We all know this is only one of many,” said Blue Ridge senior Jaden Frazier. “We just have to come in focused and do it again next time.”


Still, drawing first blood in what could be and often is a three or four game series with Miller, is big. The Barons’ 67-53 road win ended the Mavericks’ four-game win streak in the head-to-head matchup that determined the last two VISAA Division II state champions.


“We were really thrilled,” said Blue Ridge’s Savion Helm. “We knew coming in here would be really hard and it would be good for us in future games.”


The Barons got it done with balanced offense and a nearly flawless night at the free throw line as Blue Ridge went 17-for-20 at the charity stripe. Michael Gray led the way with 18 points and five assists including a pair of 3-pointers. Frazier helped get the offense going with 14 points and five boards, including six points in a first quarter where Blue Ridge opened up a 17-12 lead over the Mavericks. Frazier, who also had three assists, missed out on his third-straight double double in what’s been a solid push of late by the big man, but managed to hold his own against Miller’s Tariq Balogun despite Balogun unleashing a couple of early dunks as part of a 13-point night.


“Tariq knows how to battle, he has a big a body and he knows how to use his frame,” Frazier said. “I knew coming in to the game it was going to be a tough one.”


Helm and Andy Nwaoko came off the bench to give the Barons a spark, with both players notching 10 points a piece while Helm had four assists Nwaoko has come on particularly strong the last few games, and he scored a pair of buckets in the second quarter as Blue Ridge extended its lead to 37-29 by halftime. With 11 rebounds to go with those 10 points, it was clear he was a difference maker for Blue Ridge.


“This is his third game in a row where he has come in and just given us the energy that we need,” said Blue Ridge coach Cade Lemcke. “He’s about a year in now and he’s starting to understand to play to his strengths, let your deficiencies be as minimal as possible and play to your strengths. He had a great game.”


Miller, meanwhile, simply couldn’t get much offense going, hitting just four 3-pointers as a team. Balogun had to work for all 13 of his points and Dae Dae Heard got the bulk of his 10 points at the line. Daryl Anderson knocked down one 3-pointer and scored the rest of his nine at the line, going 6-for-7 there. Jordon Brown managed eight points.


But once Blue Ridge built an edge, Miller couldn’t string together a run to really get back into it and make it a one or two possession game. Miller made a push midway through the fourth to cut the lead to nine, but Gray essentially ended that effort with a drive and finish at the rim with 3:03 to play that seemed to snuff out any hope of a Mavericks rally.


Chris Rogers and William Lee both hit big 3-pointers while scoring eight and seven respectively. Both Rogers’ shots from beyond the arc came in the second quarter, drawing a foul on one of them for a four-point play. That put Blue Ridge up 23-19 and the Barons never trailed again. Lee followed that Rogers play with a three from the corner and then Rogers’ second three put the Barons up 29-26 after Miller had managed to tie it up again. Rogers then hit Helm on a lob to make it 31-26 and the Barons were rolling with a loud contingent of Ridge Rowdies as the Barons brought a student section that took up most of the sideline and corner of one half of the court.


“Anytime we play Miller for the first time — we obviously have a lot of respect for them, good team, great coaching staff — that first game is kind of the first round,” Lemcke said. “We want to put our best foot forward but we know that there’s more to come. The students were obviously excited they love to come to this game.”


Round two is a little more than two weeks away on February 13 at Blue Ridge. Next up, the Barons have to travel to Hargrave Wednesday night while travels to Roanoke Catholic Thursday.