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Once More, Langley Saxons are Headed to State Playoffs

Saxon center Kriz leads boys’ team past Yorktown in region semifinals.

Langley High boys’ basketball, under coach Trevor Hess, has experienced its greatest era in the program’s history over the past three years. On Saturday night, the Saxons continued to build on that pedigree with a 46-39 victory over Yorktown in a Northern Region semifinals playoff contest held at Robinson High’s Harry M. Smith Field house.

Langley, which earlier last week captured its third consecutive Liberty District tournament title with a finals win over Marshall, earned its second Virginia state AAA playoff seeding in three years as a result of the win over Yorktown, the underdog team from out of the National District. The victory over the Patriots, along with qualifying the Saxons for states, also advanced Langley to Monday night’s region title tilt versus Chantilly (see related story).

It marks the second time in three years Langley (22-3) has reached the region championship game. Two years ago, the Saxons stunned the region by capturing their district and then winning three straight region playoff games before losing to T.C. Williams in the finals. That was a glorious postseason ride for a Langley team that had never before made it to states.

And now, two years later, the Saxons are going back to states, thanks to the win over Yorktown.

“I can’t believe it, to be honest with you,” said Hess, of his Saxons making states two times in three years. “We’ve been very, very fortunate. These kids believe they can win night-in and night-out.”

The scrappy, hard-nosed Patriots (13-11) led Langley early in the second quarter, 16-13, following a long range, three-point basket by guard Mike Veith (11 points). But Yorktown, a methodical, physically small team that relies on half court execution and excels in the fundamentals of sound defensive play and rebounding, could not hold the slim lead as Langley, behind 10 second quarter points from senior center Austin Kriz, began to gain some control as the first half wore on.

Yorktown, which utilizes a stingy, zone defense, had no real answer for stopping the 6-foot-6 inch Kriz, a versatile player who can score baskets by posting up or on drives to the hoop. His second quarter baskets came from close range, one on a rebound follow-up bucket and two others resulting in three-point plays after he was fouled. The highlight basket during that stretch came when Kriz scored off the right side on a reverse layup shot while being fouled. His ensuing free throw made it 24-18 Saxons with just over three minutes left in the half. Kriz finished the night with a game-high 18 points and seven rebounds.

“We were running [offensive] sets, getting good looks and pounding the ball inside,” said Hess, whose team this year has emphasized the inside frontcourt game to better utilize its overall strengths. Over the prior two years, the Saxons won district crowns and were successful mainly as a result of their powerful backcourt.

“Austin is our leading scorer for a reason and we try to feed the ball to him as much as we can. He had a great game, especially in what was a low scoring game.”

Kriz said Langley was prepared to face Yorktown’s zone.

“We knew they’d run their zone because they’re very good at it,” said Kriz. “In practice [last Friday] we really worked on our high-low offense. That helped us get the ball inside tonight. Coach is great at setting up plays.”

Langley also received stellar front court play against Yorktown from senior forward Joey Kiffe, who played a solid all around game with 12 points and nine rebounds. His short range jumper off the right side with four seconds remaining in the first half gave the Saxons a fairly comfortable 28-20 lead at halftime.

Langley also received good contributions from senior shooting guard Colin Jones (8 points), who made a pair of three-pointers, junior guard David Adams (5 points) and sophomore guard Austin Vasiliadis (6 points, 6 rebounds).

<b>YORKTOWN</b> kept the game close but could never put together a big scoring streak to tie or take the lead in the second half. In the final minute, Yorktown’s Dan Pieteropaoli (team-high 13 points) converted his third three-pointer of the game, this one coming from the right corner, to get the Patriots within 42-39 with 50 seconds showing on the clock. Langley regrouped with a timeout before Vasiliadis made four free throws over the remainder of the game to ice the contest for the Saxons.

Yorktown made six three-pointers on the night, compared to Langley’s three, to help them stay close.

“When you have a team like Yorktown that always shoots the ball well, they are always in the game,” said Hess. “You could tell they were getting more confident as the game went on. We found a way to win in the last couple of minutes and hit some big free throws. Yorktown deserves a lot of credit for coming back.”

Langley, which lost to Lee in a first round region playoff game last year, holds a 6-2 region playoff mark over the last three seasons. The Saxons are thrilled to be going to states again.

“It feels absolutely incredible,” said Kriz, of Langley’s outstanding playoff run over the last two weeks and its upcoming trip to the eight-team state playoffs. “We just play hard every game and once we get a lead we get a lot of confidence.”

Kriz said the electricity surrounding the semifinals game was fun to be a part of.

“I never played in front of this many people before,” he said. “Both teams’ fans were incredible.”