The North Cross Raiders basketball team went the distance in the 3-game VIS Division 3 state tournament, but came up just short of wearing the championship rings when the Raiders fell to Amelia Academy 54-49 Saturday afternoon in the final at Virginia State University in Petersburg.
North Cross had entered the VIS tournament as the fourth seed, opening the quarterfinal play at the Jim Muscaro gym on the North Cross campus.
Basketball analysts would have had a heyday sorting this one out last Wednesday night.
On one side of the Muscaro gym, the North Cross team, fans and students were celebrating the Raiders relatively easy 77-44 win over Evangel Christian in the quarterfinal matchup.
On the other side of the scorers table, a clearly upset Evangel Christian head coach, Bill Jongebloed, was venting his frustration on what he thought was the deciding factor in the game.
“We had 15 fouls called on us in the first half and they had four,” Jongebloed noted. “That was the game. They need to let the kids play the game.”
North Cross head coach Bill Hodges saw it differently.
“We played great, ” Hodges said. “They’re a good team and we held them to sixteen points in the first half. That’s some pretty good defense. On top of that, our offense was hitting from the perimeter and Peter (North Cross center Peter Agba) was scoring on the inside.”
“I’ll tell you the key to the win,” Hodges added. “Our guys came off the bench and we didn’t lose a thing. Eddie (Smith), Jordan (Lowery), and Zach (Lawson) came in and played just as good as the starters.”
While Jongebloed was accurate on the foul differential, there was another imbalance that was a major role in the North Cross victory. The Raiders made a night of running down loose balls and controlling the boards at both ends of the court. North Cross often got multiple chances on the offensive end.
When Evangel misfired on their end, it was one shot and done.
North Cross led 14-6 after one quarter and 30-16 at the halftime break. The Raiders continued to increase their lead in the third, and when the 6’5″ Agba threw down a thunderous breakaway dunk at the buzzer, North Cross headed to the final frame ahead 50-28, and clearly on cruise control.
The Raiders led by 35 late in the fourth before an Eagle basket settled the final margin.
North Cross was led by Agba’s 23 points, while Lawson added 13, including three of the Raider’s six three-pointers from behind the arc.
The win sent North Cross to the VIS semifinal Friday where they faced Carlisle, a 93-42 winner over Fuqua School on Wednesday.
North Cross was looking to reverse three losses to the Chiefs this season, two by three points and a third by twelve, against a Carlisle team anchored by 7-foot center Thon Maker, considered to be the best freshman prospect in the country.
“It’s tournament time,” Hodges pointed out. “We want Carlisle again. I’m from Indiana and I’ve been drilling to our guys, you don’t get a second chance now.”
North Cross answered the call, knocking off Carlisle 34-33 when Raider junior Matt Doughty sank two free throws with 4.7 seconds left, sending North Cross to the Saturday final. Doughty finished with 10 points, with Raider big-man Agba equalling Maker with a game-high 12 points.
In Saturday’s final it was a fourth quarter Amelia Academy rally that doomed the Raiders. North Cross led by 6 points heading to the final frame before Amelia managed to outscore the Raiders 22-11 in the final eight minutes.
Agba led the North Cross attack with 16 points, while Bennett Holley and Keith Oddo each added 10 in the losing cause, Doughty chipped in 9 for the Raiders.
North Cross finished the season 21-7.
by Bill Turner