“Don’t let this moment pass you by.” That’s the theme that L.C. Bird Head Coach Chuck Thomas has employed throughout his Skyhawk’s playoff run this season. Monday evening’s Central Region Tournament was no exception, as L.C. Bird captured its first regional championship since 2005. They defeated Highland Springs 73-70 at the Siegel Center surviving a 34 point fourth quarter onslaught by the Springers to hold on and win the game.
“I told the guys as long as we had the lead, we were good to go,” said senior forward Tyrek Branch. “We worked too hard in the off-season, and in practice, to let this pass us by.”
The win avenged an early season loss to the Springers in the Richmond-Times Dispatch tournament, a game that many said wasn’t as close a story as the 55-71 deficit told.
“It’s been a long journey,” said senior Anthony Harris. “We have had a lot of people step us this year, anyone from our point guard to shooting guard to our big men.”
The collective effort of the Skyhawks came out of the gates on fire, and that may have been the biggest understatement of the tournament. Bird reeled off 22 straight points and made the entire first period a 24-2 run, silencing the Highland Springs crowd at the Siegel Center.
“Our kids took great shots, we moved the basketball,” said L.C. Bird high school coach Chuck Thomas. “Our kids played unselfish basketball; we’ve talked about that all year.”
Highland Springs would begin a long comeback in the second quarter, holding Bird to six points in the stanza, and cutting the lead to 16 going into the half.
After Bird pushed their lead out once more to 21 midway through the third period, with the help of a big dunk by sophomore Bryce Harman, who finished with six points on six rebounds, and a pair of threes by sophomore Robert Johnson, Bird had everyone involved on the offense.
And then, that’s when the Springers sprung. Starting the fourth quarter with a 19 point deficit, Highland Springs cut the lead in a matter of a couple minutes to 10, and three more minutes, on a three-pointer by Central Region player of the year Jarvis Threatt cut that lead to two.
“We talked about having poise,” said Thomas. “Highland Springs is a great program, they have state titles, regional titles, we knew the run was coming, but we had to figure out how we would handle it.”
The last two minutes were nip and tuck with Highland Springs cutting the lead to as little as one with 1:13 to go on a pair of freebies by Threatt, but they never tied the game or took the lead. The Skyhawks hit on four of their five free-throw attempts down the stretch.
Bird was led by Tyrek Branch, who had 24 points; Johnson had 19, and Christian Smith recorded a double-double with ten points to go with his 14 rebounds. Harris once again led the Skyhawks on the glass with a game high of 16 rebounds. Both Johnson and Harris garnered second-team and all-academic accolades from the Central Region.
Not bad for a team who some would say is “too young,” “under-sized” and “inexperienced.”
“A lot of people forget we were 13-13 last year,” said Thomas. “Our guys just worked really hard in the off-season; it was really just hard work on their part.”
With the win, L.C. Bird earned the right to host the first round of the state tournament at the Siegel Center on Friday night. They will face Osbourn (Manassas, VA). Tip time is 7:45pm.