South Riding, Va. — The Stone Bridge Bulldogs defeated the Freedom Eagles, 72-62, on February 18, in a game that carried large implications for the VHSL Region 5C postseason.
The last day of the Potomac District regular season was an eventful one, and the playoff seedings were completely up in the air heading into the regular season finales. Entering the day, Freedom and Potomac Falls were tied for first at 8-3, and Stone Bridge was a game behind at 7-4. For Freedom, all they needed was a win to secure themselves the top seed for the VHSL Region 5C, and they had beaten Stone Bridge by 13 just a couple weeks before.
For Stone Bridge, they were on the outside looking in of those coveted two spots atop the Potomac District. Ending up third would mean a matchup with the No. 2 seed of the National District, likely a team they haven’t seen yet. They needed a win over Freedom, and a Rock Ridge win over Potomac Falls to lock the top of the district in a three-way tie. Stone Bridge was confident in their ability to turn the tide from their last matchup.
“Billy [Crichton] wasn’t here last time [we played them]and same thing with Jacob Thomas,” Stone Bridge first-year head coach Kent Kling said. “Both are impact players who really help set the pace for us.”
The pace that the Bulldogs wanted to establish was obvious from the very beginning of the game. Stone Bridge does a great job securing defensive rebounds – Stone Bridge had 34 compared to Freedom’s 19 – make smart outlet passes, and run the floor in transition. The team looked incredibly confident in their fast-paced offense, which will surely serve them well heading into the playoffs.
“We knew Freedom wanted to slow the game down, so we picked up the pace and really made them run for 4 quarters,” said Stone Bridge senior guard Michael Jerome, who finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds.
The Bulldogs were efficient too, connecting on 48% of their field goal attempts. If they can keep up the pace for four quarters, in a playoff atmosphere, they will be a scary team in Region 5C. It was a big night for Stone Bridge senior forward Billy Crichton, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds for the Bulldogs. He’s the main focal point in the Bulldogs frontcourt, and his ability to spread the floor as well as his agility to get up and down the court make him a perfect fit in Kling’s fast-paced offense.
For the Eagles, they started off strong, matching punches with Stone Bridge in the first quarter. Freedom senior guard Robbie Kemmerer scored 9 of his team’s 23 points in the first quarter. He struggled shooting the rest of the game, however, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting. The Eagles will need his consistency if they look to go deep in the playoffs. The big scorer of the night for the Eagles was senior forward Lance Johnson, who led all scorers with 20 points as well as adding 8 rebounds.The Randolph-Macon commit was the offensive catalyst for the Eagles, and the Bulldogs – who often run with a smaller, more agile lineup – struggled to find a solution when Johnson was on the court. Unfortunately for the Eagles, he didn’t have much help. Every Eagle not named Lance Johnson combined to shoot only 15-of-54 from the field.
“We came out a little passive,” Freedom head coach Justin Powers said. “We haven’t had a game in a week, and I don’t think we found the open guy enough.”
The Eagles ended the season 8-4 in the Potomac District for a reason; it’s a testament to toughness to stay in the game despite a rough shooting night. The Eagles had their most success when they were able to slow the game down and make it a half-court battle, and they will capitalize on that going into the playoffs.
The Eagles kept it close all game, maintaining only a 5-point deficit heading into the fourth, but that’s when Stone Bridge started to pull away. The Bulldogs led by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter, but a strong quarter from Freedom sophomore guard Elijah Easter helped keep the game close.
In the end, however, the Bulldogs would close out the game, 72-62. The Bulldogs did what they had to do as far as playoff seedings went, so all eyes fell to Rock Ridge-Potomac Falls. Despite a valiant effort by Rock Ridge attempting to spoil Potomac Falls’ top seed hopes, the Panthers closed out the game and clinched the No. 1 seed in the Potomac District.
With boy teams finishing at 8-4 in the district, Freedom took home the No. 2 seed by way of a tiebreaker as Stone Bridge finished at No. 3.
The story becomes a little more complicated for the Bulldogs, as they drop to the No. 5 seed in the VHSL Region 5C tournament and will travel to National District No. 2 for a region quarterfinal on February 25.