Keep Grinding: Miller boys hold off VES to grab a spot in state title game

Photo by Bart Isley

Suddenly Miller’s boys basketball team found itself in this critical moment, up narrowly over Virginia Episcopal with time winding down and their senior leaders Tariq Balogun and DaeDae Heard were tethered to the bench after fouling out.


Someone had to step up.


It turns out nearly everyone left on the floor stepped up and the Mavericks escaped with a 52-47 victory over the Bishops, earning a spot in the state title game for the third straight year.


“For them to just pick up where we left and just keep pushing and grinding and securing the win was great for us,” Balogun said.


Ethan Rohan had a critical rebound. Garrett Payne hit two huge free throws, Daryl Anderson had a massive finish and one, Quadir Pettaway hit three of four free throws in the fourth and eighth grader John St. Germain played some heady minutes. Meanwhile, Jordon Brown continued his lockdown defensive effort against VES’s Bryce Waterman who finished with eight points.


It was pure effort and heart by the remaining Mavericks down the stretch.


“That’s just who they are as people — guys just step up and play,” said Miller coach Danny Manuel. “DaeDae gets his fifth foul and we’re like we’ll throw John St. Germain in there and he goes out there and makes two really good plays. I was proud of our guys across the board.”


Balogun fouled out with 3:36 left to play and VES kept chipping away in those closing minutes while Miller tried to melt clock, draw fouls and keep making the Bishops work for every shot. Pettaway hit two huge free throws with 44.5 seconds to play and then Anderson hit the front end of his free throw opportunity with 18 seconds left to push the lead back out to 50-47. Then the Mavericks played defense on the other end to close it out.


Brown locking up Waterman was crucial to the effort as it prevented the Mavericks’ lack of offense down the stretch from coming back to bite them.


“Jordon Brown’s defense on Bryce Waterman was unbelievable, Bryce is an elite level player,” Manuel said. “For him to have under 10 points, Jordon Brown is really getting after it.”


Brown, who surrendered a couple of inches of height in the matchup, opted to cut Waterman off from the start.


“I just wanted to deny him all night, he couldn’t touch it,” Brown said. “We wanted to make their secondary players beat us.”


Brown, who’s established as an elite defender, can focus even more on being a stopper in part because Quadir Pettaway’s emergence has given the Mavericks another ball-handler and backcourt scorer. Pettaway had 16 points in the win.


“It’s really taken our game to the next level, he can facilitate, he can score whenever he wants,” Balogun said. “He’s getting stronger every day. He just gets better every day.”


Heard and Anderson each finished with 10 for the Mavericks while Balogun notched nine points. For VES, Michael Caprese led the way with 14 points and 14 rebounds.


Now the Mavericks get to battle Blue Ridge for the third time this season. The Barons have won the last two matchups this year, but the teams have split their last two state championship battles, with Blue Ridge winning in 2017 and Miller winning in 2018.


“I’m thinking they’ll move the state championship to U-Hall and I won’t have to drive to Petersburg to play them (again) every year,” Manuel said. “I have a ton of respect for (Blue Ridge coach) Cade (Lemcke) and it’s just a matter of who plays better tomorrow, it’s a toss-up every year.”


There’s an element of prophecy at work here for Miller too. Manuel seemed to sense back in the fall, with Pettaway in the hospital after an off court injury put him in the ICU, that this could be the path for the Mavericks this year.


“I remember sitting in the hospital with Quadir and saying we’re going to keep this thing afloat and by the time you come back you’re going to take us over the edge,” Manuel said. “It’s kind of taking shape like that, but we’ve got one more to do that.”


One more huge game.