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Commentary: Hopewell Eyes Redemption
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Feb 14, 2014, 08:51

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL If at first you don't succeed, then try again. Or in the Hopewell's boys basketball team's case, again, again and again.

The Blue Devils have faced Petersburg High School three times this season, losing all head-to-head meetings with their crosstown rivals. However, they have one final chance for redemption because in a twist of fate, the two schools are scheduled to play each other in the first round of the Conference 26 Tournament.

And the meeting could not have come at a better time for a Blue Devils team which has begun to play their best basketball of the season.

Sure, it sounds strange saying a team which has lost three of its previous four games is playing at their best, but it's true. This is a different Hopewell team than they were in the beginning of the season and even in their last meeting with Petersburg earlier this month.

It's a Blue Devils team which defeated Matoaca High School, perhaps the hottest team in the area after winning 12-straight games and did so handedly with a team-wide defensive effort. The strong defense on the Warriors' guard orientated attack propelled Hopewell to transition baskets, helping them to a 17-0 run to start the game and they never looked back from there.

"I felt like our bigs played a really good game down low," Hopewell head coach Robbie St. John said after the win. "All around, I thought that we finally put together a game, with the exception of the free-throw line, that we can look back on and be proud of our effort from start to finish."

And that could be a scary thing for the Crimson Wave to look upon as they ready themselves for their game Monday night.

After all, it's not as if Petersburg has dominated Hopewell in any of the meetings this season. At Fort Lee, Hopewell held a third-quarter lead but the Crimson Wave managed to pull ahead in the fourth quarter. While the Blue Devils would cut the deficit to just three points with 42 seconds remaining, the comeback fell short in a seven-point loss.

In their next match-up, foul problems doomed Hopewell from the start and set the tone for a 23-point loss which was closer than the score indicated as St. John emptied the bench for much of the second half. However, in their third meeting, Hopewell once again found themselves with a late-lead.

They held a 48-41 advantage with 6:22 remaining the game before the Crimson Wave would storm back to capture an eight-point lead. In all three losses an average of 12 points per margin of defeat Hopewell had a chance to keep the lead or take it, yet couldn't finish in the end.

And that's what makes their performance against Matoaca promising for their opening round tournament game Monday night.

"I give Matoaca a lot of credit for the fact they didn't lay down," St. John said. "A lot of teams go into half, they are going to give you just one spurt ... they didn't. They kept playing hard and it forced our guys to keep that intensity up."

However, playing to the final whistle was not the only thing Hopewell did well in their win over the Warriors. They also continued the trend of having their players fill the roles which have become defined over the course of the season.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

Sophomore Antoine Ford has supplied immediate defensive pressure upon entering the game while also giving the Blue Devils a 3-point specialist who can stretch the floor to create more lanes into the paint. TJ McCoy has stepped up his play as well, providing critical minutes in the paint with his defensive ability and raw offensive skill-set.

And it's continued throughout the lineup where Malik Monds has stepped up his level of play while providing spurts of dominating play in the front court while Tabyus Taylor's shot continues to be hot after a 21-point performance against the Warriors earlier this week, making it seven-straight double-digit performances.

That's not to mention the steadying hand of Isaiah Fernandez running the offense nor Darrell Taylor's dominating play in the paint.

"We are getting production where we need it," St. John said. "We got a win over a quality team and I'll take that any day of the week."

With his team's improved play and confidence riding high after a signature win, if St. John's team can get two wins wins this week, a trip to the state tournament awaits.

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