It took a little while for Herndon High senior point guard and star player Austin Hamilton to find his rhythm during last Friday night’s Concorde District tournament boys’ basketball title game between the Hornets and Chantilly. Hamilton, the District Player of the Year this winter, had a mundane six points at halftime and his team was trailing the talented Chargers by 11 points – a deficit which would extend to 15 early in the third quarter.
But ultimately Hamilton’s game ignited, leading to an incredible second half comeback by the top-seeded Hornets and a remarkable 64-58 Herndon victory in the finals contest played on Chantilly’s home floor.
“He turned it on and that’s what I expect,” said Herndon head coach Chris Whelan, of the 5-foot-11 inch Hamilton. “He’s our leader.”
Both Herndon and Chantilly were set to begin play at this week’s 16-team Northern Region tournament, which began Monday, Feb. 21 (President’s Day) with the Hornets hosting W.T. Woodson and the Chargers playing at home against Lake Braddock.
Hamilton, in his team’s district finals win, scored 13 of his game-high 27 points in the third quarter as Herndon overcame its large deficit and took a 51-49 lead into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter was close the entire way as a determined Chantilly squad, which early in the final quarter fell behind 56-51 following a Hamilton three-pointer shot from the left wing, stayed in the game. A close range, spin move basket by Chantilly senior center John Manning got the Chargers within 60-58 with 1 minute, 44 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Herndon held on to the ball for the next minute-plus with senior guard Jonathan Beltran (12 points) handling the ball a majority of the time. Eventually, Beltran, after getting fouled with 26 seconds left, converted both free throws to make the score 62-58 Herndon. A missed shot by Chantilly on its ensuing possession resulted in a rebound by Herndon’s DeAndre Thomas (7 points) and a fast break transition basket by senior guard Raleigh McKenzie (8 points) with five seconds left to clinch the win for the Hornets.
“Herndon is a team of winners,” said Chantilly coach Jim Smith after the game. “I told our kids I was proud of their effort. We played extremely hard. Herndon might be the best team in the region.”
<b>HAMILTON</b>, when it appeared the game was perhaps getting away from Herndon early in the third quarter, picked his team up with his sizzling third quarter play. Over a stretch of just over a minute Hamilton converted three, long range 3-pointers, the final one pulling his team within 40-39 with 4:33 left in the quarter.
“He’s a sensational high school basketball player,” marveled Smith, of Hamilton. “He came down and hit some deep bombs, hitting 25-footers. Give him all the credit in the world.”
As good as Hamilton was, he had lots of support from his teammates. In that decisive third quarter, McKenzie, one of the better defensive guards in the region, nailed a pair of three-pointers and Beltran also landed a trey. Beltran’s long ranger gave his team a 44-43 lead.
In all, Herndon made six 3-point shots in the quarter and eight for the night, four of those coming from Hamilton and two each from McKenzie and Beltran. Chantilly, which was effective much of the night working the ball inside to big men Manning (11 points, five blocked shots) and senior forward Jake Wiegand (13 points, 10 rebounds), answered with three treys of its own.
But Chantilly, which displays terrific balance on offense between its post play and backcourt game, could not quite hold down a Herndon squad that found its game in the second half.
“These kids deserve this win,” said Whelan, whose team struggled offensively in the first half. “They’ve worked hard and earned it.
“They woke up a little bit in the third quarter,” said Whelan, whose squad outscored the Chargers 29-16 during that eight minute stanza. “I told them at halftime to fight through it. Austin put [the team] on his shoulders a little bit [in the third quarter]. But the other guys – Raleigh and Jonathan – also played well.”
Herndon (21-2) was unbeaten in district play to capture the regular season title. The Hornets received a first round tournament bye before defeating Oakton, 67-54, in a semifinals game last Thursday, Feb. 17. The Hornets were then set to meet Chantilly, last year’s region champions, in the district title game. Herndon had beaten Chantilly twice in two close regular season games – 55-53 at Chantilly on Jan. 21, and 63-58 at home on Feb. 11. Chantilly (18-6), like Herndon, earned a first round district tournament bye before edging Westfield 42-41 to make the championship game.
As expected, Chantilly came out determined to get the best of its district foe in the tournament title game, building up the 15-point lead early in the third quarter before the Hornets got untracked.
“It was a great win,” said Herndon’s McKenzie. “All of us [from Herndon and Chantilly] have played against each other since the fifth grade. Chantilly [in youth travel ball] used to beat us with their height.”
McKenzie was proud of Hamilton’s outstanding game.
“He’s a leader and you knew he’d hit some shots,” said McKenzie.
Hamilton said there was no quit in Herndon when the team fell way behind.
“We expect to make runs like that,” he said, of the Hornets’ incredible third quarter. “I hit some shots and we started feeding off each other. It feels great to finally win the district. We’ve worked so hard. Each of the 15 guys on this team is special.”
Chantilly received fine games from senior guard Devin Ballam (10 points) and senior forward Trey Huelskamp (7 points). Herndon received fine play from senior Nick Delgato (6 points).