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Commentary: Mentality Drives The Crimson Wave
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 30, 2013, 08:03

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
FORT LEE Petersburg basketball and Fort Lee Holiday Tournament Champions have become synonymous with one another. The Crimson Wave entered the 2013 version having captured the last seven titles in a row, feeling a sense of pressure to fulfill the expectations placed upon them each year.

And yet, while the Crimson Wave were the favorites by name, it would have been difficult to make them the clear-cut favorite, having been tested throughout the early parts of the season. Petersburg needed a second-half rally to defeat Matoaca in their home-opener before falling to Highland Springs the very next night.

Three nights later, the Crimson Wave captured a 34-point victory over Colonial Heights before once again dropping another contest. This time, a road loss by a one-point margin to Prince George a team which overcame a halftime deficit to knock off Petersburg.

A win against Dinwiddie followed, continuing the alternating pattern of wins and losses. However, head coach Rick Hite knew before the tournament that there is a reason for his team's struggles.

"If we are going to lose, we are going to do it in December," Hite said following Petersburg's win over Dinwiddie. "It's not going to be in February or March. Everyone expects us to roll over everyone, but it's not going to happen. There's talent in this area."

Times have surely changed for the Crimson Wave.

Teams around the area know that Petersburg can be beat and relish the opportunity to challenge themselves against a team steeped in a winning basketball tradition.

"Our win over Petersburg did more for this program in the present and into the future," Royals' head coach Travis Carr said. "We know we can beat THAT team. It's a mentality."

And it's what makes what the Crimson Wave did during the three games at the Fort Lee Tournament all the more impressive.

The aura may be gone, but the hard-fighting mentality of the Petersburg players is not. They continue to claw, no matter what the scoreboard says and feed off the energy in the gym.

Against Prince George in the semifinals, Petersburg found themselves in a late deficit. Never once was there panic. Late in the fourth quarter, it was freshman Rasir Bolton having to hit two critical free throws to extend Petersburg's lead.

He didn't flinch.

Then, it was Gevon Arrington who made up for an earlier miscue with a game-clinching steal with under a minute remaining. It's a winning mentality.

"Those kids are not going to be rattled," Hite said. "They've been through so much that nothing on the basketball court is going to faze them."

And it was the same unwavering attitude on display against Hopewell in the finals as they trailed at halftime, but recaptured the lead. It remained that way even in the later stages of the game when the Blue Devils were threatening to steal a win.

Who else but Arrington makes another big steal and later grabs a rebound to all but end any chance of a Hopewell comeback?

"We talk about this," Hite said about the savvy play. "If you make a mistake on end, you make it up on the other. Right before the steal, he kind of made a mistake and he followed our principles."

Simply put, those are winning principles.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

A team does not capture eight straight tournament titles without being well-coached. A team does not operate with ruthless efficiency late in games without having confidence in themselves.

And a team does not win big games without key contributions from little known players on the roster.

Aundry Fitzgerald was used primarily as a defensive substitute late in games. He supplied quick trapping ability and a keen eye to get a hand on errant passes, yet it was his offense which took center stage.

With Hopewell on a 4-0 run in the third quarter to take a two-point lead, it was Fitzgerald hitting the critical 3-point shot, giving Petersburg a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.

"Aundrey is a defensive guy for us, but he's shown the ability to make shots for us," Hite said. "And I want him to shoot the ball more. Sometimes he's hesitant and I don't want him to be."

But all this adds up to the growth of a team which is starting to understand how to win games. They may not have the most talent, but they know how to make a winning play in any situation.

"That's growth," Hite said. "We wanted to come out of here with a championship, we wanted to go back into the gym to have stuff to work on ... Our coaches call them boring kids. They're smart, but boring. I'm trying to get them to loosen up and have fun out there. This is one of those things that help that going forward."

If the Crimson Wave play this well when they are tight, their future opponents should be in fear of the way they could play when they are loose later on in this campaign.

But one thing is clear: this Petersburg squad is filled with players who know how to win games by making a key play late in contests. It's that mentality that will continue to bring success all year long.

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