By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando took an early lead, then held on to defeat a pesky Heritage team, 75-67, in the opening round of the Region II, Division 4 boys basketball tournament Tuesday.
The Warriors took advantage of the slow start by the Pride to jump ahead 7-2 after just 2 1/2 minutes of play, but had to battle to hold that lead late in the period.
"They are a very tough team," Warriors coach Garland Williams said. "They played some of the top teams in the state over in the Dulles District, including two-time state champ Potomac Falls. We knew that, despite their record, they weren't going to be a pushover."
Heritage was just 1 of 10 from the field to start the game, but rallied to narrow Sherando's lead to 19-17 with 54 seconds left in the first quarter. Layups by Aaron Miller and Taylor Loudan over the final 20 seconds, however, pushed the Warriors' lead back to 23-17 heading into the second period.
It was a pattern that continued for the entire game.
Sherando extended its lead to 10 early in the second quarter, thanks to another layup by Miller. But the Warriors went cold over the next five minutes, allowing the Pride to narrow Sherando's lead to 29-27 with two minutes left in the first half.
Like the first quarter, the Warriors, this time led by Loudan, closed out the first half with a 6-3 run that gave them a 35-30 lead at intermission.
It didn't take long for Heritage to erase Sherando's lead in the third quarter. Austin Nelson scored a pair of buckets in the first minute of the second half to draw the Pride to within one at 35-34.
The Warriors answered with Terry Wood, who tallied six third-quarter points to help Sherando build a 52-42 lead heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Undeterred, Heritage again came roaring back to get within two, 63-61, with 2:35 remaining.
Two things over the last two minutes of play determined the game. With the Warriors ahead by just two, 65-63, Tanner Ruths hit a huge 3-pointer to give Sherando a little cushion.
Ruths was the Warriors' key offensive weapon all night, hitting clutch shots when Sherando needed them the most. He finished with 14 points, including six in the final period, and eight in the first quarter to give Sherando its early lead.
The other thing that propelled the Warriors to victory was their foul shooting, particularly over the final moments of the game. After hitting just 3 of 8 attempts over the first three quarters, Sherando nailed 12 of 14 attempts in the final period, including 7 of 8 over the last two minutes of play.
"There's no doubt that Ruths' shot was a big one for us," Williams said. "That was one of those shots where I expected us to work the ball around a little bit, but when it went in I thought, 'Okay.' We work on free throws every day because we know that we're going to need them at the end of the game. Making all of those free throws at the end was a big plus for us."
Wood led the Warriors with 21 points, including a 5 of 6 performance from the line. Loudan had 11 points for the night and Miller finished with 10.
Nelson led Heritage with 15 points. Owen Patterson scored 13 points for the Pride, and Erick Lanui finished the game with 12.