Hopewell Looks To Finish Strong
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 22, 2014, 09:20
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — After picking up just their second win in their last six games with a win over Prince George last week, Hopewell enters the final part of their season looking to gain some momentum before reaching the conference tournament.
The Blue Devils have just six games remaining, one of those against rival Petersburg and the other against Conference 26 foe Huguenot, giving them an opportunity to raise their confidence level with some big wins.
It's why it should be encouraging for the team that players who have either struggled all season long or had not produced much offensively are starting to do so. The goal of every team is to be playing their best as the season approaches their conclusion. Instead of peaking early, Hopewell is on track to peak late, putting them in position to have success during the conference tournament.
"Some of the struggles are still there," Hopewell head coach Robbie St. John said after the win over Prince George. "We're still missing some bunnies, still missing free throws, but maybe we need those games where we are going to need to run some clock or win at the end to get that confidence up."
And it's been those issues which have cost Hopewell a few games over the last couple of weeks. Arguably, the Blue Devils should have defeated both Dinwiddie and Matoaca, but late-game collapses led to disappointing losses.
Against the Generals, Hopewell had a seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter and had multiple chances to ice the game with free throws late, but could do neither before losing, 57-55.
It was a nearly identical story against Matoaca.
This time, the Blue Devils held a six-point advantage with just 62 seconds remaining. However, the Warriors found an extra gear and took control of the ball with 10 seconds on the clock and trailing by two. Matoaca's Devin Morgan raced up the court, got into the lane, made the basket and was fouled, clinching another late-loss for the Blue Devils.
However, while the defense had made two egregious errors in those two losses — fouling on the final play against Matoaca and on a 3-point basket at Dinwiddie — it was the reason they defeated Prince George in their last game.
"I was really impressed with our kids' understanding of when to trap and when not to," St. John said about his defense. "I thought, especially in the third quarter, we were getting good looks and they were having to force shots because of our rotations. That wasn't just starters either."
Over the last few games, other players have made critical contributions during game-action for the Blue Devils. While one would not know it from the scoresheet, Brandon Young and Antoine Ford have been revelations for St. John with their defensive tenacity.
Entering the game to give rests to both Isaiah Fernandez and Daniel Saunders, the duo routinely attacks opposing ball-handlers while forcing turnovers with relative frequency. And the two have also looked for their shots as well with Ford tallying a few baskets against Matoaca and Young nailed a 3-pointer early in the fourth-quarter in the same game.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
However, it's the improvement of his starters which could have Hopewell ready to turn the page over the final six games.
Darrell Taylor has shown just glimpses of how he can affect a game — dominating the interior against Varina during the Fort Lee Tournament — but against the Royals, he looked like a different player. Taylor routinely made big defensive plays with emphatic rejections, but a two-handed slam for his first dunk of the season was the exclamation point on his performance.
"There were times that he'll go to the basket and he's just thinking too much," St. John said. "It's amazing what one dunk can do because he was a completely different player after that. He got so excited we had to take him out of the game ... I thought he played a great game and he did a lot of the dirty work that he won't get stats for."
In addition to Taylor's new-found aggressiveness, Fernandez has added a scoring punch to his repertoire as well, setting a season-high with a 14-point performance against the Royals. The normally passive junior point guard, actually utilized his first-step quickness to get to the rim while other times taking mid-range jumpers.
However, the key to the sustained success for Hopewell will not be eyeing the big picture which would be needing to win as many games as they can for a higher seeding, but take the one game at a time approach.
"We're more focused on what Meadowbrook is going to try to do," St. John said of his team's next opponent. "We are focused on seeing the opponent in front of us and making the adjustments we need and seeing if we can pull games out."
If the one game at a time mantra turns into multiple wins, the Blue Devils should be a fearful match-up for anyone in the conference tournament after already having knocked off Armstrong and played Petersburg to the wire.
Just 240 minutes of basketball remains until that point and it's up to Hopewell's performance to see if more minutes will follow the season's conclusion.