Boys Varsity Basketball
Game Summaries & Headlines.
Before we talk about the Eagles win over Massaponax on the road Wednesday night, we need to look into and analyze the transformation of this team in their first season under Head Coach Anthony Mills on the Forge bench.
Mills took over a program that had fallen on hard times. He was hired and built a game schedule that would scare many in the area, but he kept preaching that he was changing a culture and building for the future. Many fans saw early results and just assumed that the team was going to turn in another sub .500 year. The competition early was tough, but as we head into February, there is not a team in this area that has seen the Eagles develop and wants to play them.
Massaponax beat the Forge at home back on January 4. It was a game dominated by the long range shooting of the Panthers Dorian Staples and a lack of energy and intensity by the Eagles. The post-game interview with Mills was late developing as I stood in the hallway waiting for the coach to emerge from the team room. The voices inside that meeting were raised and passionate and when the team walked to the locker room, heads were down and all you could hear was the schools heating system as they walked down the hall.
O my how things have changed. Since that game, the Forge has not lost and has collected five district wins to climb into a 3-way tie (Massaponax, Stafford and Forge) for first place in the standings. The run has not only put the “good guys’ in the race (6-2 in district), the team is now 9-9 overall on the campaign. I am sure that coaches who had their way early with the Eagles, have no desire to tip it off with the Forge now.
What is the secret? The fact of the matter is the Eagles are a PAIN IN THE NECK to play against. Some teams you can say get off the bus shooting, but this group plays defense immediately after school! “They play the best defense I’ve seen” a local assistant coach told me at halftime. The change was not going to come over night, but Mills deserves the credit for getting his players to buy in and execute on both ends of the floor. The results are exciting to watch and for the first time in over two years, Eagle Nation is talking basketball in the schools hallways.
On Wednesday, the Forge wasted no time in trying to grab control of the contest. Josh Osakwe (led the Forge with 15 points on the night) opened the scoring but with the score tied at 4-4, Elijah Sarratt, Osakwe, L.T. Woods scored clutch baskets, and the Eagles had a 10-4 advantage with 2:10 left in the first. Back to back, came the home squad as Khai Seargeant cashed in on Forge turnovers and Noah Lefleur responded for the Panthers to cut the lead to 10-8 with 1:02 left. Josiah Jones extended the Eagles lead but a banker by Lanxton Athy with 2.6 seconds left sent the teams to the benches with the Forge on top 12-10 after one.
The Eagle defense continued to press all over the floor and at times looked like the Forge had extra men on the floor. The defense allowed the Forge to control the frame on the other end of the floor as the Eagles showed off some passing prowess as they drove and dished to the open man for easy buckets. Each time the Panthers made a run; the Forge had an answer and just would not let the Panthers to get any rhythm. Ponax cut the Eagles lead to 21-19 with just over 4 minutes left, but the “good guys” went on a 12-4 run of their own to close out the half with a 33-25 lead at the break.
The visitors continued to play well out of the locker room and had a 48-31 lead midway through the quarter. It was here the Forge faced its first piece of adversity of the night. Osakwe was called for his fourth personal foul with 3:24 left in the third quarter and had to go to the bench. A 3-point bomb by Lafleur seemed to give the Panthers a burst cutting their deficit to 48-34 and it was Mills who called timeout to talk it over. Again, the Forge defense stood tall even without their big man in the paint and finished off the quarter with a 54-41 advantage heading into “winning time”.
The Eagles went cold early in the final quarter and were held scoreless for the first 2:33 of the quarter when Martin Kawa (14 points) hit a jumper from the right corner to make it 56-48 Eagles and Mills called another time out to get Osakwe back in the game. The Panthers were desperate as they put together one last run and actually cut the Forge lead to 58-53 with 2:06 left, and the Forge fans in the stands were a bit uneasy. The Eagles went to the charity stripe in the last 1:45 and converted 10 of 14 from the free throw line to hand the Panthers their second district loss and create a 3-way logjam for the top spot.
The Forge will now host Stafford on Friday night and will be going for the sweep against the Indians after they captured a 65-57 win in early January. Friday will be USA NIGHT in the GREEN WALL and the Forge will be rockin’ the RED, WHITE AND BLUE as their team goes for their sixth straight win. The Eagles have their destiny in their own hands as they head into these final four games of the regular season. Those fans doing the “assuming” early in the year need to come see what this team has accomplished. If you do not think something big is happening on Friday night on Courthouse Road, just go back in history to February 25, 2015. That marks the last time the Eagles hosted a meaningful basketball game. That was a 75-59 victory over Forest Park at the tail end of a 27-2 season for the Forge. A season that when it was over saw a SECOND State Championship banner hung in the Forge gym. Moving forward I am not “assuming” anything, but where else can you see one of those banners in Stafford County?