By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Sherando's boys basketball team knows very well that James Wood can be a very dangerous team if you let the Colonels hang around late in games.
James Wood's heavy reliance on the 3-pointer can often lead to some explosive scoring outbursts in a short amount of time, and a close contest can quickly turn into a blowout if the Colonels find their shooting stroke.
Sherando learned that lesson the hard way in the first game of the Northwestern District tournament semifinals Wednesday night at Millbrook High School, as fourth-seeded James Wood used a late 16-2 run to stun the top-seeded Warriors, 82-68.
"We've been telling our guys ... if they hit shots, they're going to be tough," Warriors coach Garland Williams said. "We've got to cover well [defensively]. We didn't do a very good job of doing that."
The win sends James Wood to the tournament championship on Friday night, where the Colonels will play Handley at 7 p.m.
Both teams battled closely for most of the game, as the two teams were never separated by more than six points throughout the first three quarters of action.
James Wood (11-13) took a 60-58 lead into the fourth period after junior guard Ryland Williams drained a deep 3-pointer to end the third quarter, but Sherando reclaimed the lead at 64-63 on an Isaiah Williams bucket with six minutes remaining in the game.
The Colonels' offense then took over, as junior Nick Goode knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in a 15-second span to give James Wood a five-point lead.
"When you hit a couple, your confidence level just goes up and when you feel it come off your hand you know it's going in," Colonels coach Al Smith said. "You could tell that's the way they felt out there tonight."
Sherando (14-8) answered with another basket by Isaiah Williams to trim the deficit to three, but James Wood's defense forced the Warriors into four turnovers in their next six possessions.
The turnovers opened the door for the Colonels' offense to extend the lead, and they did that by attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line, where they hit eight consecutive free throws in a two-minute span.
Senior Michael Carter and Ryland Williams combined for all eight of those free throws, and Ryland Williams also added a layup in transition during the spurt. Colonels junior Cam Butler delivered the decisive blow with a 3-pointer -- James Wood's 15th of the game -- with three minutes left in the game that gave the Colonels an 80-66 lead.
James Wood was able to milk most of the final two minutes off of the game clock with its ball-control offense to seize its first win over Sherando in at least four years.
Wednesday's win boosts James Wood's chances of reaching next week's Region II tournament, and Smith said there has been a noticeable difference in his team's attitude over the last few games.
"I think our team has changed over the course of the last two weeks," Smith said. "Our chemistry is so much better. These guys have become a tight group and they believe in what it is that they're doing."
Defense has also been key for the Colonels over the last couple of weeks, and Wednesday night was no different. Sherando scored 90-plus points in the two regular-season meetings with James Wood, but was held to just 68 on Wednesday.
Smith said the team has made some defensive changes recently that has paid off for the Colonels so far.
"We started putting this other defense in specifically in mind knowing what we had coming up," Smith said. "Their game is dribble penetration -- they want to get to the rim. We thought that if we could take that away and make them a jump-shooting team, we'd have a chance."
Sherando senior Aaron Miller had the hot hand in the first half, scoring 15 of his team-high 21 points in the first two periods. But James Wood's defense was able to limit Miller's opportunities in the second half, and the Colonels held him scoreless in the final period.
Isaiah Williams and senior Tanner Ruths each had 13 points for Sherando, and senior Nathan Culp added 11 points for the Warriors.
Ryland Williams led all scorers with 22 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter. He was one of five Colonels in double figures, along with Carter (13 points), Butler (12 points), Goode (11 points) and Peyton Crickman (11 points).
Sherando has already locked up a home game in the next week's Region II, Division 4 tournament, but Garland Williams said Wednesday's loss is a wake-up call for the Warriors.
"Each game is a different game, so you've got to come to play," Garland Williams said. "I don't think we did a very good job getting ourselves ready, and that's my job. I guess I didn't do a very good job getting them ready for the game."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org