By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Ron Combs did everything he could to prepare his team for Tuesday's Virginia Association of Christian Athletics (VACA) state quarterfinal game.
As it turned out, Combs might have done a bit too much in terms of preparation. The longtime Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy coach brought out some game tape of Tuesday's opponent, Faith Christian, for his team to watch.
That was a big mistake.
"I had tape on them, and the tape I had was the tape of a team that we smacked, that beat them," Combs said. "So we came into this game, we knew all their sets and plays, but we had to get hit in the mouth in the first half to wake up. I mean, that's what happened. It was my mistake because I let them see the tape, and I shouldn't have let them see the tape."
The fourth-seeded Warriors were much better than that tape advertised, jumping out to an early lead that had the No. 1 seed Patriots scrambling to recover before locking down a hard-fought 66-64 victory.
Faith Christian, featuring 7-foot freshman center Brendan Newton, looked at first glance like a squad which had little chance of keeping pace with the up-tempo Patriots. Looks can be deceiving, as Newton and his teammates got up and down the floor just fine.
"We can go," Warriors coach Scott Cole said. "[Newton] can run the floor and not get as winded as he used to."
Confronted with a big man who could move and an opponent which could really shoot, the Patriots soon found themselves down 17-10 before Tyler Fincham's 3-pointer with five seconds left in the first quarter made that deficit a bit more manageable.
SVCA (14-10) regrouped in the second quarter behind leading scorer Evan Hotek, who poured in 14 points in the period to help his team forge a 34-all tie at halftime.
"It was not what we expected, and that's why they got up on us early," Hotek said. "That really hurt us because we were trying to get into a transition game and they were a lot faster than we gave them credit for. And with their center, it was really hard to penetrate so we had to get into a slow-down, try to penetrate and get them into foul trouble."
The Warriors still had some firepower left, and pushed back out to a four-point lead twice in the fourth quarter. Hotek finally gave SVCA its first lead with his drive through the lane to put the Patriots up 42-40 with 2:40 left in the half.
The Patriots gained a bit of breathing room in the fourth quarter, as the Warriors had to deal with some foul trouble that forced them to sit Newton and two other starters at times. Looking to get that fifth foul on Faith's big man, SVCA freshman guard Shyheim Gilkerson repeatedly attacked through the paint directly at Newton -- who stood a good foot taller, and then some.
Gilkerson never drew that fifth foul, but his two rainbow jumpers sparked an 8-0 run to open the fourth that pushed SVCA's lead to 55-48.
"We started to take it as a playoff game, and we started to take over," Gilkerson said.
SVCA couldn't finish it, though, as the Warriors started forcing turnovers and sinking 3-pointers. Nick Alterio's final 3-pointer for Faith pulled his team back within two points with three seconds to go.
The Warriors couldn't prevent the inbounds play from Patrick McGrath to Hotek, who ran out the clock for the win.
Alterio finished with 22 points to lead the Warriors, Connor Clinton added 14 points, Isaac Elliott chipped in nine points and 17 rebounds, and Newton finished with eight points, seven boards and four blocks.
"It was a great game," Cole said. "I loved every minute of it and I'm proud of my boys."
Hotek had a game-high 24 points and added 11 rebounds for the Patriots. Gilkerson chipped in 14 points and Fincham had 10 for SVCA, which moves on to Friday's state semifinals against Westover Christian at Ridgeview Christian in Stuarts Draft. Game time is 8:15 p.m.
"We were fortunate to win, but a 'W' is a 'W,'" Combs said.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>