We bore witness to a Conference 14 clinchfest when the Tuscarora girls’ squad held off valiant Potomac Falls to stay conference-unbeaten in three years, then the Panther boys came back with a trouncing triumph over the Huskies to claim yet another league crown.
Girls’ final score –
Tuscarora Huskies (17-4, 7-0) 11 6 21 16 = 54
Potomac Falls Panthers (8-14, 2-6) 1 15 15 8 = 39
Tuscarora scorers –
Points: Kennedy Middleton 20, Isabellah Middleton 13, Ashley Leonard 7, Allison Fitz 6, Shakima Machulski 5, Brenna Cochran 2, Rosa Santos 1
Three-pointers: I. Middleton 1, Leonard 1
Free throws: K. Middleton 3-9, Fitz 2-2, Leonard 2-2, I. Middleton 2-2, Machulski 1-2, Santos 1-2, Cochran 0-1
Potomac Falls scorers –
Points: Ashley Pandelides 10, Natalie Brennan 8, Casey O’Connor 7, Grace Deker 5, Jessica Geppert 5, Gianna Torres 4
Three-pointers: Pandelides 2, Brennan 1, O’Connor 1
Free throws: Geppert 3-7, Deker 3-4, Brennan 1-2
Boys’ final score –
Tuscarora Huskies (12-9, 3-4) 13 10 11 13 = 47
Potomac Falls Panthers (16-6, 7-1) 29 15 15 26 = 85
Potomac Falls scorers –
Points: Brian Sweeney 25, David Walls 24, Christian Sweazie 13, Sterling Anthony 10, Eddie Qasimyar 8, Grant Misch 2, Alex Nemer 2, Drew Weidman 1
Three-pointers: Sweeney 5, Qasimyar 2, Sweazie 1
Free throws: Sweeney 2-3, Sweazie 2-4, Weidman 1-2
Tuscarora scorers –
Points: Tique Yarbrough 16, Alex Bailey 11, Chandler Tuten 9, Brandyn Crittenton 3, Jared Cross 3, Tre Turner 2, Leron West 2
Three-pointers: Bailey 1
Free throws: Tuten 3-4, Cross 3-4, Bailey 2-4, Crittenton 1-4, Yarbrough 0-6
Potomac Falls High School, Sterling, Va. (February 7, 2017) — It was a banner day – even if the results did go according to chalk.
In a season-ending, playoff-previewing Viva Loudoun Hottest Hoops Of The Week, the stars came out for the Panthers of Potomac Falls High School against the visiting Huskies of Tuscarora High School, as leading seniors scored early and often before some players who play less made some positive plays.
It all gave head coach Jeff Hawes‘ Panthers yet another banner to hang on the Potomac Falls walls.
“We’re real proud of that,” said Hawes, the only head boys’ hoops coach in Potomac Falls’ 20-year history. “We want to win the tournament, but the regular season championship has always meant a lot to us here at Potomac Falls.”
Hawes said with pride that the Panthers have, since 2002, not played two consecutive seasons without winning a district/conference (confrict?) title, either regular season or tournament, in at least one of them.
The Panthers’ counterpart frontrunners in the conference, the girls of Tuscarora, likewise took care of business – but took their time to start doing so – in a 15-point girls’ hoops win over the Panthers that was a one-point deficit late in the third quarter.
The Huskies kept alive a conference win streak dating back to Feb. 20 of 2014. But surviving for this win was apt preparation for the one-and-done games soon to come.
“We knew that winning tonight would clinch us the conference. We talked about that as one of our goals,” said Husky head coach Michael Newkirk, seeing sustained success at the program he’s coached since Tuscarora’s 2010 debut.
This postseason the Huskies will go for their third straight state-tournament bid.
“It’s all about the hard work the kids have put in seven years, and it’s been a process and a progress. But now we have an expectation of winning,” said Newkirk, enjoying that e-word.
Huskies practice surviving, advancing
In the end, it became a rather solid win for the Tuscarora girls, just like it looked like it would be when it was 11-1 after one quarter.
But it sure didn’t look like a solid Husky win as the final stanza approached. The capable Panthers fought back to take brief leads twice, but an 8-0 run in the third quarter’s last minute was the deciding separation.
“We’ve been there before,” Newkirk said. “We knew coming in we’d be in for a good game. At that point [late third], I told them that they’d been here before and it was time for that experience to show itself.”
The Huskies didn’t score until the game was 200 seconds old, when senior Brenna Cochran stole it and ran it back. Five-foot-nine freshman Isabellah Middleton got active, helping produce an 11-0 run not snapped until sophomore Jessica Geppart – a recent JV call-up – hit a free throw with nine seconds left in the first.
It immediately got better for the home team. The Panthers found offensive rhythm as Casey O’Connor assisted Geppart for a bucket, then O’Connor and fellow freshman Ashley Pandelides connected on threes for 16-16 late in the first.
“We’ve been playing better than we were in the first half of the season,” said Potomac Falls head coach Lynn Ewald. “We knew if we came out and handled their pressure, we could be fine.”
O’Connor made more noise in the second half, dropping through a pair of runners, each one grabbing a one-point Potomac Falls lead.
But the Huskies’ senior Ashley Leonard responded to losing the lead with an immediate three. Kennedy Middleton answered O’Connor’s other go-ahead, driving past a defender for a right-handed layup to spawn a long Tuscarora run. The Huskies led 43-31 early in the fourth, turning back the Panthers’ challenge.
Leonard is a four-year varsity contributor for the Huskies. She said the off-seasons have been instrumental for Tuscarora’s run of good seasons.
“We just have this expectation now, that you work hard in the off-season so that when we come to the season, we’re ready for it,” she said. “We expect to win now because of how we’ve done previously.”
Panthers ready to come out and play
The ball didn’t bother the rim at all as it punched through the net, arced from way downtown off the hot shooting hand of the Panthers’ Brian Sweeney. The round orange thing barely touched iron on Sweeney’s next three threes, all in the first quarter, all from quite deep and all off his hot left hand.
“My teammates trust me to shoot the ball with confidence every time, even when I’m off,” said Sweeney, who recently tied the school mark for single-game three-pointers with seven. “I just have a lot of confidence right now.”
The Panthers lept out to a 20-6 start as Sweeney’s fellow seniors complemented his long-ball accuracy. Guard Christian Sweazie put in a two and a three, and big athletic David Walls drove for layups and jumpers, tallying 14 points by halftime.
“I was just attacking the hole as hard as I could, trying to make the defense come to me and leave my man open,” said Walls, gesturing to his man Sweeney.
Walls came out of intermission on the attack, powering down a right-handed dunk. A Sweazie jumper followed, and the home team ballooned its lead to 27 before the third period was out. In the fourth, the Panther Pit student section had fun right along with their classmates on the court, roaring as junior center Grant Misch knocked aside one of his four blocks and junior guard Eddie Qasimyar sank a pair of long, long three-balls.
But it was the defense that Hawes’ mind went to first in the post-game interview. Tuscarora senior Tique Yarbrough displayed energy with eight points in each half and Chandler Tuten did dirty work with offensive rebounds and free-throw trips, but…
“That’s a team that scored 90 and 86 in their last two,” noted Hawes, “and we kept them to around 45. We’re playing a lot better defense. A lot better defense. That’s really been the biggest key.”
To open the campaign the Panthers seesawed to a 6-6 mark, but the win Tuesday nudged their victory streak to 10. In that time, Sweeney, Walls and the currently injured 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Ian Anderson have all poured in 36 or more points in a game.
Anderson is expected to return for the Conference 14 tournament. Key guard Sterling Anthony recently returned from a missed month with a broken hand.
With a deep team of experienced contributors, shooters and size, the Panthers have the look of Hawes’ back-to-back state title teams from the beginning of this decade.
Both Walls and Sweeney spoke of the Panthers’ team camaraderie, manifesting on the floor in unselfish and fluid play. Hawes had the same perspective.
“We’re kinda hitting our stride lately, playing real well, come together as a group. We got a lot of role players coming in to give us a minute and a half,” the veteran coach observed, before proclaiming, “The work’s only begun.”
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Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications