Leesburg, Va. — Entering their district championship matchup, the Loudoun County and Tuscarora High School boys basketball teams had decided their two regular season games by a combined 11 points. The Huskies had come out on top of both battles. So when the teams met again for the Dulles District championship game the Captains wanted to flip the script.
Led by their core group of seniors, the Captains weathered a third-quarter Tuscarora run and exploded for 30 points in the fourth quarter to come from behind to defeat the Huskies, 56-47, to avenge their regular season losses and claim the Dulles District tournament championship on February 17 in Leesburg.
“Our chemistry is unmatched. We’ve been playing together since we were in second grade,” Loudoun County senior guard Zach Hensch said. “We knew we just needed to play physical and gut it out; that was the only way we were going to win.”
The Captains and Huskies traded baskets early as Tuscarora ended the first quarter with a 13-12 lead. Loudoun County, however, opened the second quarter with a bang as senior forward Joey Fitzpatrick knocked down a three to give the Captains their fourth lead of the game.
The Huskies quickly took the lead back before Loudoun County junior forward Devon Chrisner hit a short jumper as the lead flipped sides yet again. As the second quarter wound down, the Captains took their sixth lead of the game when senior guard Jack West found senior center Brady Solomon underneath for an easy two as Loudoun County took a 21-20 lead into the half.
That Loudoun County lead quickly evaporated when Tuscarora junior guard TJ Duggan knocked down his first bucket of the night to give the Huskies a 23-21 lead. That triple kicked off a 10-2 Tuscarora run that gave the Huskies a 30-23 lead, their largest of the night.
“People were ramped up; it’s a good crosstown rivalry,” Loudoun County head coach Mark Alexander said. “I just told our guys to keep their composure.”
Trailing by six heading into the fourth quarter, the No. 2 Captains knew they’d have an uphill battle to get past the No. 1 Huskies, but they chipped away little by little before senior point guard Braxton Griffin intercepted a pass and was fouled, knocking down both of his free throws to give Loudoun County a 39-38 lead, marking the eleventh and final lead change of the game.
“I had a rough start, but my teammates were there to pick me up; I really couldn’t have done it without them,” Griffin said. “If I’m ever having a bad moment, they’re always there to pick my head up.”
Loudoun County quickly built upon its one-point lead as Chrisner stole a pass and got the ball to Griffin, who finished to increase the Captains’ lead to 41-38.
Then, on the very next Tuscarora possession, Griffin once again intercepted a pass and went coast to coast to open up a five-point Loudoun County lead.
“I was seeing that the entire game, but I was just waiting for the right moment,” Griffin said. “I saw it, took advantage of it, then I was able to finish on the other end.”
With a five-point lead, the Captains were able to get to their end game, where they used a combination of excellent defense and unmatched clock management to fend off the Huskies.
After he scored 11 points in the first half, Loudoun County held Tuscarora junior guard Jayden Johnson to just six points in the second half, using a platoon of Hensch and fellow senior guard Johnny Penberthy to lock down the Huskies’ biggest offensive threat.
“Zach’s a typical County kid; he’s tougher than nails. He plays with passion and gets under players’ skins a little bit. He just plays hard, and it’s going to wear people down,” Alexander said. “When we went small, we brought Johnny in and he was fresh and ready to go, so it all worked out.”
Meanwhile, in the fourth quarter, Griffin added 11 of his team-high 14 points, Fitzpatrick scored 9 of his team-high 14 points, and West added 9 of his 13 points, including going 7-for-7 from the free throw line down the stretch.
Loudoun County (12-3, 19-6) hopes to get that kind of production throughout the night when they travel to Northwestern District champion Handley for a VHSL Region 4C semifinal on February 21. Tuscarora (14-1, 21-4) will look to get healthy and bounce back when they host Sherando in Leesburg on the same night.
“We’re stoked to play this game,” Griffin said. “We’re just here to get the job done then hopefully see Tuscarora back here again next Thursday.”
Mike Ferrara captured 100+ photos at the game!
Loudoun County Stats