Ashburn, Va. — After an early exit from the postseason tournament just a season ago, the Freedom High School boys basketball team wasn’t going to allow anything to stop them from a trip to the VHSL 5A State tournament in 2019.
“Every team wants to play in the state championship game,” Freedom head coach Justin Powers said. “Potomac Falls has been there before, and we haven’t. Not a lot of people were talking about us after being No. 5 in the district.”
Despite entering the Potomac District tournament as the No. 5 seed, the Eagles battled past team after team to eventually knock off previously undefeated Potomac Falls in a district tournament semifinal.
Nine days later, the Eagles met their familiar foe again, this time in the VHSL Region 5C tournament. Avenging its loss in the district tournament, Potomac Falls got the better of Freedom in the region championship game. Both teams, however, had earned a berth to the VHSL 5A State tournament.
“We have great respect for each other, because we’ve been going at it for a few years,” Freedom junior forward Lance Johnson said. “It’s always a battle between our two teams.”
With the rivalry at its pinnacle, there was no surprise that the gym was packed when the Eagles and Panthers met for a state semifinal on March 4 in Ashburn.
After trailing for most of the game, Freedom turned up the defensive intensity in the fourth quarter, knocked down a couple big shots, and converted at the line to punch its ticket to the VHSL 5A State championship game, 63-57.
— Owen Gotimer (@BigO_Gotimer) March 5, 2019
Down 40-34 with eight minutes to play, the Eagles slowly, but surely, closed the gap before junior guard Angelo Easter finally evened things out at 45-45 with about five minutes to play.
Then, after Potomac Falls scored a bucket on the other end, Freedom senior guard Kyle Skinner drilled a three to give the Eagles a lead for the first time since midway through the first quarter. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“In this district, you never get a night off,” Powers said. “Some nights you have it, and some nights you don’t, so we had to learn the type of focus it takes to win. Because we were battle tested throughout the season, we knew what it would take to win tonight.”
While Skinner gave his team the lead late, Easter headlined the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his team-high 19 points in the final eight minutes.
“I was just playing through my teammates and the crowd,” Easter said. “They were getting me hype, so I just turned it up.”
With a two-time state champion coach breathing down their necks, the Eagles’ night became even more difficult when Johnson – Freedom’s all-region forward – fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.
“I just had to keep the energy up for my teammates while I was on the bench,” Johnson said. “I put my trust in them like they had in me all season. I knew we were going to pull it out.”
Shortly after Johnson’s disqualification, Freedom caught a big break when Potomac Falls junior forward and leading scorer Landon Hawes also fouled out. Then minutes later, Potomac Falls senior forward and Christopher Newport-commit Ian Anderson took a seat on the bench following his fifth foul. The Panthers – who finished the season with just two losses, both to Freedom – had run out of answers.
“The kids are hurting right now,” Potomac Falls head coach Jeff Hawes said. “But I told them, once the dust settles and everything clears out, they’re going to realize what an incredible run they had.”
For Freedom, the journey continues when the Eagles travel to Virginia Commonwealth University on March 6 to battle Maury High School for the VHSL 5A State title.
“We are heading down to Richmond for one thing only,” Easter said. “To win a state championship.”
Potomac Falls Stats
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