The hugs, tears and phrases of encouragement on the bench and out of doors the locker room informed the story of Steward boys basketball this season way more than the arduous fourth quarter did. 

“Best coach on the planet,” Spartans gamers proclaimed as they handed first-year coach TJ Grimes within the tunnel at Virginia State College’s Multi-Objective Heart following their 47-41 loss to top-seeded Highland in Friday afternoon’s VISAA Division II semifinals. 

Grimes, a former Hampden-Sydney standout (1996-2000), took up the mantle of former Steward coach Curt Kassab, one of many space’s most achieved highschool coaches, previous to this season.

Steward completed 21-8.

“These boys gave me all the pieces they have,” Grimes mentioned.

“They adopted my lead, I am following a terrific coach. So for me to return in, numerous stress on my shoulders. We’d have favored to complete it higher, however I would not have this run with another squad. I will take this squad and go to conflict any day of the week. I am lucky to be right here. The entire Steward household, they have been tremendous supportive and I am very appreciative.”

Individuals are additionally studying…

Steward, Division II’s No. 4 seed and the No. 7-ranked native group within the Occasions-Dispatch Prime 10, had the Hawks on the ropes all afternoon.

Senior wing and Liberty recruit Curtis Blair III scored 14, 9 of which got here in a dominant third-quarter show wherein Blair, who excels at creating house and rising up over defenders for mid-range jumpers, took over the sport and at instances appeared un-guardable.

He hit a deep 3 from the highest of the important thing to offer Steward its largest lead of the afternoon at 34-21 with 3 minutes to play within the third. 

“He is a Steward legend already,” Grimes mentioned of Blair.

“He simply places us on his again. He is a terrific participant, however even higher to teach. He is so respectful. Speaking to him, you’d by no means know he is a D-I stud and potential [NBA] draft choose.

“I’ve solely had him for one yr, however it’s been a blessing to be right here and watch him play. I will be trying ahead to see him play on the subsequent stage.”

Highland clamped down defensively within the remaining interval, significantly on Blair, who noticed loads of double-teams because the Hawks tried to pressure someone else to beat them. A slew of second-chance alternatives helped Highland get again into the sport as Grimes shouted “rebound” and “field out” from the bench.

“We performed actually good protection, us switching defensively helped us get the massive lead. The boys fought arduous, Curt [Blair] made some superb photographs within the second half, [senior guard] Te’Ven [Smith] performed nicely, it is all in regards to the seniors,” Grimes mentioned. 

“We want we may have gave them a greater run close to the tip. However generally you have simply acquired to complete performs.”

The Spartans missed the entrance finish of a pair of back-breaking 1-and-1s within the remaining minutes. Highland junior guard Julian Rivera (9 factors) sank a clutch 3 from the highest of the important thing to offer the Hawks their first lead for the reason that first interval at 41-40 with simply 36.7 seconds on the clock, Grimes known as that play “large” and mentioned it was attributable to a defensive lapse on his group’s half. 

“Simply because it will get tight, we nonetheless must play essentially sound,” Grimes mentioned. “We did not quit many [3s], however that one [Rivera’s] positively harm.”

Highland senior guard Cameron Cole (13 factors) and sophomore wing Probability Perkins (10 factors) hit pressure-packed photographs and free throws down the stretch as Highland pulled away on the free throw line within the remaining seconds. 

“When the sport’s tight like that, all of it counts,” Grimes mentioned. “However I am happy with this group. They made it right here and we did quite a bit with much less. I want I may have executed extra for the seniors.”

Steward led 15-9 after one interval when Blair sank a buzzer-beating 3 from the appropriate wing, 23-19 on the break and 34-27 after three, because the Spartans saved Highland at arm’s size till the sport’s remaining moments.

Junior 6-10 ahead Owen Grey scored 7 on a sequence of put-backs and powerful footwork within the publish. Sophomore guard Xavier Nelson supplied a significant spark with 8 factors, totally on short-range baseline pullups.

Smith, the second-leading scorer behind Blair, had 9 factors. And although senior level guard and high soccer recruit Sam Roberson scored a modest 2 factors, his ball dealing with and courtroom imaginative and prescient have been pivotal in permitting Steward’s offense to function.

Grimes lauded the contributions of Grey, Nelson, Roberson and Smith, saying all of Steward’s items have embraced their roles behind main man Blair. 

“This squad, it is simply bee a pleasure to teach,” Grimes mentioned. “They did all the pieces I requested them to do that season. The teaching employees has been superb. Their sacrifice has been large.”

Blair was noticeably emotional on the bench following the ultimate whistle, as teammates and coaches consoled him. 

“For the previous six years, this program, it is simply loopy how far we have come from after I first acquired right here,” Blair mentioned.

“It is simply all via arduous work and dedication. After which with Coach Grimes coming on this yr, he picked up proper the place Coach Ok [Kassab] left off. So it has been nice to be coached by him.”

Steward 15 8 11 7 – 41

Highland 9 10 8 20 – 47

Stew – Roberson 2, H. Smith 1, T. Smith 9, Nelson 8, Grey 7, Blair 14.

HS – D. Johnson 9, Cole 13, Rivera 9, Perkins 10, Brown 6.

Division III semifinals

No. 2 Life Christian took down No. 3 Carmel 77-67 to earn a spot in Saturday’s championship recreation. Eighth-grader Bryan Mitchell scored 21 for LCA. 

The Eagles will tackle top-seeded Fairfax Christian at 1 p.m.

Division IV semifinals

No. 1 Banner Christian acquired previous No. 4 New Covenant 53-52 as senior captain and main scorer Caleb McNeely led the way in which with 24 factors, and Luke Libbey scored 15.

The Bearcats will face Hampton Christian Academy in Saturday’s remaining at 11 a.m.

Zach Joachim (804) 649-6555

zjoachim@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @ZachJoachim


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