MECHANICSVILLE – With 9.7 seconds left in the third quarter, Atlee boys basketball trailed Lee-Davis 52-46, but had possession. An offensive foul and a 3-pointer by the Confederates was not the way Atlee head coach Rally Axselle envisioned the end of the period.
Now down 55-46, it was time to try to disrupt Lee-Davis’ rhythm. Enter backcourt pressure, which forced an immediate turnover, and, on the surface, little more. But that spark initiated a sequence where Lee-Davis spent the remainder of the game out of rhythm, further broken by a half-court defense which forced the Confederates out of their offensive set.
Atlee outscored Lee-Davis 20-9 in the final stanza and, when Elijah Jones’ game-winning 3-point shot bounced off the back of the iron and the horn sounded, Atlee’s Tyler Warren took off towards the Raider bench to celebrate a huge win over an archrival on its home floor, 66-64. The victory moved Atlee to 8-9 and kept its faint Region 5B playoff hopes alive. Lee-Davis fell to 10-6, losers of four of their last five contests.
“In our first game, we tried to press them a little bit full court, and it did not go well,” Axselle recalled. “We had success the first couple of times [tonight], then they adjusted, so we went back to the half-court trap.”
It proved to be the most important move of a chess match between Atlee, who likely needs to win out and get help to earn one of eight playoff bids in a 15-team Region 5B, and Lee-Davis, which zoomed to a 9-2 start and seemed destined for the postseason. Now 10-6, the Confederates must find at least two more victories before anyone can breathe easy in these, the final two weeks of the regular season.
It was Atlee who began the night strong, scoring seven of the game’s first nine points, but Lee-Davis settled in, generating a 13-2 run of their own for an 18-13 lead late in the opening period. Devin Christian nailed three triples and went for 12 first-half points, helping Lee-Davis build a 39-31 lead at halftime. But he was held to just one trey in the second half, as slowly, but surely, the pace of the game slowed down to Atlee’s liking.
In the critical fourth period, all nine of Lee-Davis’ points came from beyond the arc. Avery Fusco, who scored all 13 of his points in the second half, tied the game with a trey at 3:07 left to make it 61-61. Moments later, the other Fusco trey took the lead at 64-61. Andrew Cook, who had 11 points for the Raiders, scored his only field goal of the second half to cut the margin to one at 64-63.
A lost ball by Christian ended up in Cook’s hands, who hustled down court to find Andre Coleman for the go-ahead layup at 65-64 with 31 seconds left. The Raiders would make just one free throw down the stretch, giving Lee-Davis the chance to win at the horn that wouldn’t fall.
For Axselle, whose team endured a barrage from Lee-Davis beyond the arc, the axiom “one game at a time” continues to be true.
“The 11 3-pointers they made seemed like 50,” Axselle opined. “This year, I’m not talking about playoffs. Last year, it didn’t work out. Maybe I’m superstitious. We’re worried about the next opponent.”
That would be powerhouse Henrico, who comes to Atlee Tuesday. Lee-Davis visits fellow Region 5B rival Douglas Freeman, who is 14-5, Wednesday at 7:30.
In the girls showdown, Aya Youssef continued her strong outside shooting, feasting in the lane for a career-high 22 points as the Raiders improved to 9-7 with a 59-28 over the Confederates.
“I’ve been waiting three and a half years for this to happen!,” exclaimed Atlee head coach Michael Rawlings with a smile. “She did miss some down the stretch. I told her she should have had at least 30 [points]. The fourth quarter has been an issue for us, but didn’t have to be tonight.”
Kayla Maxson was hot from beyond the arc contributing 16 points while Kelly Ayer, despite foul issues, added 12 points as Atlee looks to seize one of the final playoff berths in Region 5B. With L.C. Bird, Highland Springs, Mills Godwin, J.R. Tucker, Matoaca and Varina all with 11 wins or more, it could come down to Glen Allen, Atlee and Deep Run as to who grabs one of the final two playoff bids.
The Raiders’ playoff drive continues at Varina Wednesday night at 7:30.
Rob Witham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.