Poor start buries Warriors in conference championship loss

Sherando's Michael Perry floats in for a layup while Handley's D'andre James tries to catch up during the first quarter of the Conference 21 West finals Wednesday night in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – It was a start Sherando High School’s boys basketball team couldn’t afford. Not against a team that entered Wednesday’s Conference 21 West tournament championship game with one loss. Not against a team that had beaten the Warriors by double figures twice during the regular season.

Taking on top-seeded Handley for the conference crown, No. 2 Sherando hit just one of its first 14 shots and trailed the Judges by 19 after one period of play. The Warriors wouldn’t come close to mounting any sort of comeback after that, and they fell in a 72-53 loss that gave the Judges their first conference title since 2014.

“They were red hot and we were ice cold. That’s what it was,” said Warriors head coach Garland Williams, whose team will now compete in the Region 4A West tournament that begins on Saturday. “I mean we make a couple putbacks, a couple layups – we needed to keep it respectable.

“We fought, made some adjustments to some things and tried to do some things that we like to do. … You have to do well right at the jump against good teams and they’re a great team.”

Both offenses struggled early, as neither team made a field goal until Sherando’s Jared Miller hit a jumper from the top of the key with 4:45 left in the first period that cut Handley’s lead to 4-2.

Sherando's Jared Miller gives a head fake as he heads to the basket while Handley's D'andre James lingers behind during the second quarter of the Conference 21 West finals in Winchester Wednesday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Things unraveled for the Warriors (14-10) from there. Handley (23-1) got rolling with Keevon Martin’s 3-pointer from the corner 15 seconds later, a shot that sparked a 19-2 run to end a quarter that saw six different Judges combine to hit eight of Handley’s final 10 shots in the frame.

“I think we were uptight,” Judges head coach Jason Toton said, “being a championship game and kind of knowing what was on the line in the sense of we kind of had to win to set ourselves up to hopefully make a run in the (regional) tournament. We knew that coming in, so I think it was just maybe a little jitters or whatever, and I think once we made our first shot … we kind of got going. We kind of feed off of things like that. When our shots start falling, defensively we start getting after it and our defense turns into our offense and we can knock down shots. We did that tonight at the beginning of the game.”

As poorly as the first period went for Sherando, the Warriors had a chance to take some momentum into the second period after a Handley player compounded a shooting foul late in the first quarter by drawing a technical, giving Sherando four free throw attempts and the ball with 11 seconds remaining.

The Warriors couldn’t capitalize, as they missed all four free throws and came up empty on their final possession of the opening frame.

“That’s a thing that we work on a lot. One night we hit them and another night we go … less than 50 percent,” said Williams, whose team made just 6 of 15 free throws in the loss. “That’s tough. … Especially things that you work on a good bit and you don’t come through with them. It’s just, I guess, one of those nights.”

Sherando's Christian McMahan goes up for a pass while Handley's D'andre James, left, and Tyson Long, right, defend during the first quarter of the Conference 21 West finals held in Winchester Wednesday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Handley continued to pull away in the second period and took a 37-13 lead into halftime behind the play of Martin and fellow junior guards Michael Brown and Kobe Tigney. Martin, who went 6-for-6 from beyond the 3-point arc in the win, led the Judges with 20 points, while Tigney (six rebounds, two steals) had 16 and Brown 15.

Handley shot 42.9 percent (24-for-56) from the field in the win and hit 9 of 14 3-pointers.

“The scary part is we’ve won 23 games and we haven’t been on all cylinders yet where everybody’s hitting and everybody’s having a good game in the same night,” Toton said. “I’m hoping that game eventually comes and hopefully we have multiple games of that. But it’s somebody new every night.”

The Judges’ lead reached 27 points multiple times in the third period before the Warriors cut the deficit to 18 with just over two minutes to play following a 10-4 run that featured 5 points apiece from Miller (team-high 12 points) and Matt McKay (11 points).

Handley immediately answered with an 8-0 run that spanned just 11 seconds of game time to push the lead back to 26 before the Warriors scored the final 7 points of the night.

Sherando's Melvin Irby drives to the basket and draws a foul on Handley's Kevin Curry during Conference 21 West finals held Wednesday night in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

Sherando, which outscored the Judges 40-35 in the second half, actually ended the night with a better shooting percentage (43.5 percent) than Handley, a number bolstered by a string of nine consecutive buckets in the fourth period. The Judges outrebounded Sherando 35-26.

Michael Perry (four rebounds) and Melvin Irby each had seven points for Sherando.

The Warriors return to action Saturday in the first round of the Region 4A West tournament, although the opponent and location is yet to be determined.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com