By Tommy Keeler Jr.
QUICKSBURG -- For the last six years Stonewall Jackson has been the door mat of the Shenandoah District. The team that many of the other district squads thought would be an easy win. On Tuesday night, the Generals made yet another statement that they are not that team anymore.
The Generals built a first-half lead, lost it in the fourth quarter, but responded late in the game to take a 48-42 victory over Riverheads in Shenandoah District action. The Generals, who entered the season without a district win in six years, have now won two district games in a row.
"It means a lot to us," Stonewall Jackson senior Matt Litten said. "It's shown that the district is up for grabs. We're a team to compete with this year, and teams need to prepare for us, like they haven't done in the past. Stonewall's a team to beat this year."
After having a 12-point halftime lead, things got a little dicey for the Generals in the second half. Stonewall Jackson had six turnovers and took only two shots during a six-minute span of the third and fourth quarters. During that time, the Gladiators went on a 13-2 run and took a 41-39 lead with just 4:50 left in the game.
"We told them they needed to keep doing the things they were doing in the first half, in the second half, and we didn't do that," Stonewall Jackson coach Patrick Smoot said.
With the game on the line, the Generals responded. Litten, who was playing despite battling a flu bug, was able to convert a conventional three-point play to help give the Generals a 42-41 lead with 3:46 remaining in the game.
Stonewall Jackson's Colton Harlow made two free throws, and then Litten scored off a nice pass from Harlow to push the lead to 46-41 with 2:28 left in the game.
"We kind of realized we have to continue doing what we did in the first half," said Litten, who scored five of his seven points in the final quarter. "Things got tough, but we just all came together and gave it all we got."
The Generals (3-4, 2-1 Shenandoah) struggled to make free throws down the stretch, but the Gladiators (4-2, 1-2) weren't able to take advantage. The Gladiators missed their last eight shots and turned the ball over several times.
Harlow said defense has been a key to the Generals' recent success.
"We have a great defense and that's really kept us in the games," Harlow said. "Coach Smoot harps on defense, and he really shows us that's what works, and that's what it takes to be successful."
The game was tied at 12-12 after the first quarter, but the Generals took control of the game in the second quarter. Stonewall Jackson out-rebounded Riverheads, 15-11, in the first half and used the extra shots to its advantage.
Center Corey Polk gave the Generals a big boost with his rebounding and scoring. The 6-foot-2 junior came off the bench to score eight points in the quarter.
The Generals used a 14-4 run to build a 28-18 lead. A free throw by Riverheads' Kyle Wilson cut the lead to nine, but Harlow hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the lead to 12.
Stonewall Jackson picked up its first district win in six years on Friday when it defeated Buffalo Gap, and the momentum carried over against the Gladiators, who entered the game 4-1.
"We knew that we could come out and do great things and we're finally starting to do it," Harlow said. "It's amazing, actually being able to be confident. And everyone's supportive and not being all negative. It's a great feeling."
The Galdiators were led by Zach Roberts with 10 points.
Harlow led the Generals with 12 points, while Polk and Ryan Smith each had eight.
Harlow said at the beginning of the season the team's goal was just to win a district game. He said even though they've won two district games now, they still feel like they have a lot more to do.
"We're still the underdogs," Harlow said. "And I know that people are still going to look down on us. That's motivation for us to beat them. It helps us out, actually."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org