Bird sets school standard, but falls to Norcom in state finals

On their magical playoff run, the L.C. Bird Skyhawks held off furious runs and made runs of their own, coming from behind in dramatic fashion to beat top teams in the state, T.C. Williams and Osbourn. They faced one last challenge in the Greyhounds of Norcom (Portsmouth, VA) who were ranked third and fifth nationally in two polls. They were unable to make one last run, and fell in the Virginia High School League state final 54-45.

“When you get to this game, you never want to end,” said L.C. Bird high school coach, Chuck Thomas. “We beat a lot of good teams to get here, and we played a good team tonight, we didn’t make our shots down the stretch.”

The Skyhawks were able to jump out to an early lead and maintain a slight lead during the first half. Bird shot 44 percent from behind the three point line in the first half with sophomores Robert Johnson and Javonte Reddick accounting for two bombs a piece.  Bird never trailed in the first half, carrying a two point lead into the half.

“Our first half wasn’t as good as they have been,” said Christian Smith, who led the Skyhawks in scoring with 16. “We knew we had to make some adjustments and we knew that they would make that run.”

It wasn’t so much the run for the Skyhawks, but it was the defense, and when Bird got their shots, they didn’t fall.

“At times, it seemed like they got out to the perimeter so fast,” said Thomas. “We were unable to get shots off.”

Their defense held L.C. Bird to 29 percent shooting in the second half, their worst half of the playoffs. Bird was only able to connect on one three-pointer in the second half on 10 attempts.

That, coupled with the play of Virginia Tech commit Dorian Finney-Smith, a 6’7 forward for Norcom, was enough, as the Greyhounds took the lead early in the third quarter and never relinquished it, leading by as much as 11.  Finney-Smith was closely guarded by fellow ACC athlete-to-be in Ant Harris, who will be attending UVA this fall on a football scholarship.

“Ant’s guarded the other team’s best guy all season,” said Thomas. “He’s a great defender.”

Despite Harris staying with Finney-Smith like glue the entire  game, the lengthy forward was able to lead Norcom with 19 points, less than his scoring average of the season, and added 17 rebounds.

“He’s one of the best guys I’ve had to guard,” said Harris. “I thought I did a pretty good job, but he made some tough shots.”

Despite the loss, the appearance in the state final was their first, and they have much to build on for next year, as they will only lose two significant in-game contributors in Harris and Tyrek Branch. They finished the season with a 25-4 record, and also achieved a ranking of 99th nationally according to a poll on rivals.com, a popular high school basketball website.

Johnson, a sophomore, who led the team in scoring throughout the season and playoffs, cherished the experience that was gained by the team during the postseason.

“Playing at this level, with teams of this caliber, it gives us good experience,” said Johnson. “It’s that motivation to get back to the same place, and instead, win.”

Norcom became the first back-to-back state champions since Bayside High accomplished the feat in 1990 and 1991.

A team that went from 13-13 to 25-4 in one off-season has nowhere to go, but up. Look out for The Skyhawks next winter as they will attempt to scratch one more thing off the list- a state championship.

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