Bird fights back, advances to semi-finals

Call them the cardiac kids. Advancing to states after holding off two furious comebacks by in-region foes John Marshall and Highland Springs, L.C. Bird was able to win in a different way—by coming back from a 15 point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to advance to the state semi-finals for the third time in school history, defeating the Osbourn Eagles 73-72 in the VHSL state tournament Friday night.

“Our Chaplin has talked about the team being a rubber band,” said head coach Chuck Thomas. “We stretched that rubber band a little bit tonight.”

The Eagles would start out with a 7-1 run, but Bird would cut the lead to one on a three by a  Robert Johnson trifecta, and then a tight, back and forth half would ensue.

Osbourn would lead at the half 31-30, the first time Bird had trailed at the half since their last and district tournament loss against Huguenot.

Coming out in the third, Osbourn would open up a big lead on Bird, starting the half on a 13-2 run as Bird was having trouble keeping the athletic Eagles from driving to the

basket. Coach Chuck Thomas changed up the defense to stop the penetration that Osbourn brought.

The third quarter was the biggest struggle Bird had encountered through their playoff run, and faced a 15 point deficit.

Utilizing a zone press, Bird was able to force turnovers, and make their shots count. Christian Smith was the star of the fourth quarter.

One of those jumpers cut the lead to single digits, 65-56.

“Ant found me a couple times tonight,” said Smith. “Ant found me a lot this year,” he chuckled.

The Skyhawks made their move, and Johnson connected on a crowd-frenzying three to narrow the lead to four, at 69-65. Then, one play later, it was Johnson again with the steal and lay-in to cut the lead to two.

After  Johnson, who had a game-high 28 points fouled out late in the fourth quarter, L.C. Bird head coach Chuck Thomas told Harvey Freeman to attack on offense. It would be Freeman who hit the shot that put Bird ahead for good with: 58 left. With the help of an Osbourn turnover, the Skyhawks would hit three of four free throws, to stretch the lead to four, but the Eagles made it interesting as (player name) drilled a three from the right corner to cut the lead to one with 3.5 seconds remaining. The Eagles were unable to foul Bird and the clock expired, leaving Bird victorious.

Bird totaled 34 points in the fourth quarter, showing what they can do when they are shooting well. The Skyhawks also had a quarter against Highland Springs in which they outscored the Springers 24-2.

“We’re a streaky team,” said a smiling Freeman.

Streaky, but very consistent Bird has been, shooting 43 percent from the floor during the last five games, and hitting on 72 percent of their charity attempts. The Skyhawks have also shot 48 percent from three-point land since the regional tournament began, with Johnson connecting on 20 three-pointers in just 34 attempts, good for 58 percent.

“He’s our shooter, our go-to guy,” Freeman added.

Bird also received a boost from gridiron star Yahkee Johnson, who filled in at the point when Freeman, who was in foul trouble at times, sat. He handled the offense, got two steals, and added four points.

“At the end of the game, Yahkee was hugging Harvey [Freeman],” said Thomas. “And that doesn’t happen often, kids usually get selfish,” continued Thomas. “Yahkee is ready to come in, fill a role and does it well.”

Bird will advance to play the champion of the northern division, T.C.

Williams (Alexandria) who defeated 757 power house Phoebus (Hampton) by a count of 58-51. Get out and support L.C. Bird as they march to a possible state championship.

“It’s just beautiful when you see that crowd go up,” said Smith.

“It’s my first time being in the state tournament,” he continued. “I’m glad to be here, and I hope we keep going.”

The semi-final will be Wednesday, March 9, at the Siegel Center. Tip-time is 3:45pm. The finals will take place Friday at 9 p.m.

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