Senior Ross Callaghan stood at the line Tuesday night with a three-point lead and two foul shots forthcoming. One minute and four seconds remained in the game as Langley looked to close out the game for the first victory of the 2013-14 season.
The team captain missed not one, but two.
Then freshman Aaron Kim, who finished with eight points, committed a turnover with approximately 18 seconds left that led to an uncontested layup by junior Alan Liu, cutting the Fairfax deficit to one. That’s the type of year it has been for the inexperienced and injury-plagued Saxons. Riding a four-game losing streak and mentally and physically drained following a 45-36 overtime loss to rival McLean, it seemed that Langley would fall to 0-5.
Then, with 12 seconds remaining, Callaghan stood at the charity stripe once more. This time with a 55-54 lead.
“I had to make [the shots], I knew we could play good defense. I just needed to have confidence in myself to step up and make the shots,” said Callaghan, who was physically harassed all night by a vicious Rebel press.
Langley would cling dearly to that three-point lead and let out a collective breath after the three-point attempt for the Rebels’ Liu, who had a team high 12 points, clanged off the front iron, giving the Saxons a 57-54 win.
No one had a greater sigh of relief than head coach Scott Newman.
“It feels great,” the first-year Langley coach said of his first victory at the helm of the Saxons. “I’m proud of my kids. They battle and work hard in practice and it finally paid off. We are a better team than our record indicates and we just needed one [win]. I think it’s the start of building a real good season.”
Newman told his team to come out and set the tone at the game’s onset, but the Saxons did anything but. They trailed the Rebels 16-7 after one and 31-23 at halftime before storming back in the second half, scoring 22 and 12 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. The defense was the main story for the Saxons as they limited Fairfax (2-4) to 23 points in the second half, forcing the Rebels to commit double-digit turnovers. It was a huge turnaround after allowing the Rebels to shoot 71 percent from the field in the first half.
The Saxons (1-4) had lost their first four games by four, nine, 10, and nine points, respectively. They are in the midst of a learning stage with freshman Kim, along with sophomores Nate Schafer, Daniel Salamone and Christopher Miner logging substantial minutes. They will look to establish chemistry with junior Christian Gaibler and seniors Austin Denham, William Gent, and Callaghan.
With 1:33 remaining in the third quarter, the Saxons caught a major break when a Callaghan layup was counted even though a technical foul against the Langley bench was clearly assessed before the shot attempt. After the two ensuing free throws for Liu the game was tied at 41 apiece. Nevertheless, the Saxons responded to adversity and emerged victorious, taking with them some tangible momentum leading up to their next home game against Chantilly.
This win is expected to “give [the Saxons] a swagger going forward. We know what winning feels like now and we plan to keep the ball rolling” Callaghan, who scored a game high 21 points on 8 for 13 shooting, calmly stated.
The young team will look for leadership from their captain going forward. Callaghan is asked by the coaching staff to do a lion’s share of the heavy lifting, but not all of it as Gaibler had 11 points, shooting 75 percent from beyond the arc. Denham also had eight points and several key rebounds with his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame. For Callaghan, however, it was business as usual and the Saxons plan to keep improving in practice in order to take it one game at a time.