Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Hopewell's Lead Slips Away In Loss To Petersburg
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Feb 4, 2014, 22:56

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG The game was within Hopewell's grasp. Both the players and coaching staff could sense a victory as Darrell Taylor rose within the lane, drew contact and was fouled, pumping his fists in the air before letting out a roar.

Taylor would complete the and-1 play, giving the Blue Devils a seven-point lead, 48-41, with 6:22 remaining in the game. However, it took Petersburg just 75 seconds to overcome the deficit to tie the game and an additional 48 seconds for Gemonta Jackson's runner in the lane plus a foul to gain a three-point advantage, 52-49.

Yet, with the crowd noise in Lawson Gymnasium reaching deafening levels, Hopewell never panicked, responding with a clutch corner 3-pointer from Isaiah Fernandez to tie the game. The Blue Devils would then respond to another Jackson bucket with a Deonte Jones lay-in of their own, tying the game at 54-54 with 3:15 remaining.

But in the next few moments both Taylor and Fernandez would foul out, leaving Hopewell in a precarious spot with two leaders sitting on the pine, giving the Crimson Wave the advantage it needed.

Freshman guard Rasir Bolton would tally 8 of his 13 points in the final 62 seconds, helping Petersburg to a dramatic come-from-behind victory as Hopewell watched their seven-point advantage turn into a 70-62 loss.

"It's what we battled all year with our starters on the bench ... we got down and fought back, grabbed a lead and despite the missed free throws and the other glaring things, we controlled the game up until Darrell fouled out," Blue Devils coach Robbie St. John said after the game. "When that happened ... you could tell it shook our guys. I think our guys got real uncomfortable without him on the floor and it showed."

And while Taylor entered the game only averaging 8.1 points per contest, he had been playing better of late both offensively and defensively. It was Taylor who came up with three blocks on three consecutive Petersburg (13-5) possessions, helping to fuel a Blue Devils (8-10) comeback.

Yet, when Taylor's night ended with a shade over three minutes remaining after an 8-point night, Hopewell could not immediately recover. With no interior post-threat on the court, the offense became stagnated and did not score a single point for a two-minute span.

Meanwhile, Petersburg began attacking the Hopewell defense with little fear of being rejected without the 6-foot-4 forward in the game, turning the momentum over to the Crimson Wave.

"It's not to say the kids that came off the bench didn't do a good job, but they're not him," St. John said of the junior. "Not many people have him ... it's hard to ask a kid to be something that they're not."

And when Petersburg's Kaimonne Douglas connected on a top of the key 3-pointer for three of his game-high 27 points while drawing the fifth and disqualifying foul on Fernandez, Hopewell's fate was sealed.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

It was just the latest game in a season full of late-game leads evaporating. Hopewell held leads at Matoaca and Dinwiddie before coming out on the losing end both times. Yet, against Prince George, it seemed Hopewell had figured it all out, closing out the game to pick up a key victory.

However, the inconsistency resurfaced against Hopewell's biggest rival, again highlighting the learning process of a young squad figuring out the little things will cost you victories against good teams.

"If this were a senior-laden team then I would be concerned, but they're a young team," St. John explained of the Blue Devils' failure to close games out. "It's not like at the end of the game that we are turning the ball over in key situations ... our effort was there, the execution might not have been, but I feel like we are a lot closer than we were in the Dinwiddie and Matoaca game."

St. John has many reasons to believe it's the case even after just a 11-of-20 effort from the charity stripe.

And it starts with the play of Fernandez at the point guard position where he has been the steadying force for Hopewell's offense. He routinely surveys the opponent's defense before running plays to perfection. Yet, recently the junior has been more open to shooting the basketball.

Fernandez dropped in a team-high 13 points in the loss to Petersburg while twice hitting clutch shots to propel Hopewell runs. Then, there is the play of Tabyus Taylor who continues to work hard on the glass and get the tough baskets as he dropped in 11 points on the night.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

Even Hopewell's leading scorer Daniel Saunders seems to be breaking out of his shooting slump, recording a double-digit point effort in the last four games with the latest a 13-point game against the Crimson Wave.

"I feel like if we play at that level that we should beat teams," St. John said. "But when you're on the road, on senior night, you have to bring a different type of game. I felt like for all of the game, except those last three minutes we were ready to match that intensity ... We just didn't finish it."

Another loss and another harsh lesson learned from a bitter-rival. Yet, if Hopewell can figure out how to sustain their effort through a full 32 minutes, opponents may find themselves on the losing end more often.

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