The strides that Blue Ridge boys basketball has made this season are incredible. Seemingly every week the Barons got a little better. Gelled a little more. Shot a little better. Got more cohesive on defense.
“This is a special group,” said Blue Ridge coach Cade Lemcke. “They’re super talented but we knew the big thing coming in, most of them were new to Blue Ridge. It was going to take them a while to understand the system, understand the culture. In March our goal was to be playing the best basketball we can be playing.”
Those little improvements added up and Wednesday night – a team that looked overmatched in an early season battle with St. Anne’s-Belfield – punched its ticket to the VISAA D1 state final four with a hard-fought 50-48 win over Bishop O’Connell.
“It’s amazing, but the job is not done, we’ve got a big one on Friday,” said Blue Ridge’s Shanon Simango.
The Barons finished the game off with an incredible defensive stand as a team, with Kamren Martin pressuring the inbounds, Colby White challenging and forcing a miss on a baseline jumper, Martin and Diarmid Stewart guarding Bishop O’Connell’s Shane Lincoln who gathered the long rebound, Stewart blocking his leaning shot cleanly and then Simango collecting the rebound as the buzzer sounded and the Barons celebrated.
“I was so proud of the guys, we pride ourselves on the defensive end and we knew we could get stops and limit them,” Lemcke said. “I was proud of the way that they finished that game.”
Simango, who had 15 points and 16 rebounds, got the Barons over the hump and set the stage for that defensive stand with a bucket and the foul in the closing minute, shaking off a night where he struggled at times to finish underneath to come up clutch for Blue Ridge when they had to have it.
“If he has zero points or 30 points I’m never going to have 100 percent trust in him,” Brewer said. “He works super hard, practices super hard, I’m never going to lose trust in him.”
Simango took an entry pass from Martin, then drove, drew contact as he went up, collected himself and scored.
“My teammates believe in me from the first second, from tip off,” Simango said. “I kept digging in and they kept feeding me and coach kept believing in me. I couldn’t do that without them .”
Before Simango’s late bucket, Brewer put the Barons on his back, attacking repeatedly off the dribble to take the fight to a Bishop O’Connell squad that stiffened after falling into a 22-9 hole in the first quarter. With the offense floundering after the opening frame, Brewer got to the rim and either finished or kicked out as he finished with 13 points and seven assists. He also had seven rebounds.
“I just really wanted to win so bad,” Brewer said. “I had been envisioning all day, all week that I did not want this to be my last game, I was trying to leave it out on the floor.”
The Barons did just that and vaulted themselves into the state semifinals. They’ll face Paul VI Friday at Virginia State at 7 p.m.