By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Robbie Lawler had been struggling offensively all game long. However, when his team needed him the most he came up with the clutch shot.
The Handley senior converted a three-point play late in the game to help give the Judges a 66-62 win over Monticello on Thursday night in the Region II, Division 3 semifinals. The win advances the Judges to the Group AA state tournament next week. Handley will play at Fluvanna in the Region II, Division 3 final Saturday at 7 p.m.
"It's wonderful," Lawler said of advancing to states. "I keep smiling just thinking about it. I've been wanting to do this since my sophomore year."
With the Judges trailing 59-57 with less than two minutes left, Lawler began to drive toward the basket, and then stopped and banked in a pull-up jumper as he was fouled. He then made the free throw to give Handley a 60-59 lead with 1:27 left in the game.
"I just looked up at the basket and knew I could get there," Lawler said. "I got fouled, so I just had to push my way through the guy. [Assistant] Coach [Donald Finley] always tells me to do bank shots. I never do them, but I had to listen to him this time."
Handley sophomore Tre Brown hit two free throws to give Handley a 62-59 edge with 43 seconds left in the game.
After a missed Monticello shot on its next possession, Brown got the rebound and threw a long pass to a wide-open Lawler, who made the layup to extend the Judges' lead to five with 22 seconds left.
"It felt great to have Tre [Brown] look up court when he got that rebound and throw it right up to me," Lawler said. "It definitely got the momentum going more."
Monticello's James Banks hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 65-62 with four seconds left, but Handley junior Jacob Rudolph sealed the win with a free throw in the final seconds.
The Judges (19-4) started off slowly, but the hot hand of senior Chris Skinner got them on track.
Skinner scored 10 points during a 12-4 run that helped cut the deficit to 16-14 after the first period.
Skinner, who finished with a game-high 22 points, hit two 3-pointers during the stretch. He shot 5-for-11 in the first half, including 3-for-6 from 3-point range.
"After my first shot, I just realized I felt comfortable after that," Skinner said. "I knew If I had it I could shoot it. That was all she wrote after that. I just kept on shooting, even if I missed, I got it out of my head and kept on shooting."
Darion Robinson also gave the Judges a lift in the second period as he scored eight straight points, including a dunk, to help the Judges take a 30-28 halftime lead.
Handley's best period was in the third, as the Judges scored 22 points and took a 52-42 lead into the final eight minutes. The Judges had six different players score in the period, including seven from Skinner.
The Judges struggled in the fourth period, as the Mustangs used a 13-2 run to take a 55-54 lead with 3:12 left in the game. The Judges were able to respond down the stretch to pull out the win.
"At the end of day it all comes to teamwork," Skinner said. "We're definitely a family. Everybody does everything for each other. At the end of the night when games come down like that, that's what families do -- they come together and get things done."
The Mustangs were led by Jhalil Mosley with 19 points. Denzell Terry and Sam Patterson added 12 each.
Robinson had 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks for Handley. Kyle Murph and Lawler had eight points each.
Handley beat Fluvanna, 73-61, earlier this year. Skinner said the team knows it will take another great effort to knock off the Flucos.
"They have very good players," Skinner said. "We just know that we have to come out and play defense and run our offense. We just have to stay together and be positive."