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2 months ago by Jim Hill - The Voice of the Eagles

FORGE BASKETBALL: EAGLES 12TH STRAIGHT WIN EARNS REGION CROWN, 56-51

(Photo by Alexa Welch Edlund)

The Colonial Forge Boys Basketball program hung two State Championship banners in their barn back in 2014 and 2015. From 2016-2018, the program came back to earth over the next three years mustering a mark of 36-33 in that span.

Enter Coach Anthony Mills and his band of basketball junkies. Mills and his staff came in with a plan and a process, and although the early going was choppy at best, the team since the start of this calendar year has earned a mark of 12-1. O by the way, those 12 wins have come in the last dozen games. Say what you want, but the bottom line is this team has been EN FUEGO since a January 4 loss to Massaponax at home.

In the post-game interview, that night Coach Mills (and his entire staff) were just as disappointed with the team’s effort as they were the loss to the Panthers. The team meeting after the loss was loud and not fit for ears of any little ones walking by. One of the most striking moments of the year was the faces of the players as they walked down the hallway of the wellness wing on the way to the locker room after the coach’s message.

53 days have past, the message has been sent and delivered and the result is a 6B Regional Championship after a 56-51 win over the James River Rapids on the road. The win has earned the “good guys” a home (away from home) playoff game in the quarter final round of the State Tournament on Friday night @ North Stafford against the Oscar Smith Tigers.

“Something I tell my guys all the time is trust and believe” said Mills when asked if he thought he would be playing in the state tournament after the rocky start. "When you trust the process, this is what happens”.

The process came off the bus a little groggy on this night but the Rapid start was not anything to write home about either. The play was not really turned up until Elijah Sarratt tied the game at 9-9 with 1:50 left and Martin Kawa sunk two free throws to give the Eagles an 11-9 advantage. The Rapids would respond when Jalen Jordan hit a three pointer from the right elbow extended with 20 seconds left to put the home team ahead 12-11.

Then things got a little weird. James River’s C.J. Weber was driving down the right sideline when he lost control of the ball courtesy of the smothering defense from Antonio McIlwain. The ball actually deflected off McIlwain and went straight up. Before anybody had control, the horn sounded and the official called a foul on McIlwain and gave three free throws to Weber. He dropped all three while the Eagles and their fans tried to figure out the true definition of a shooting foul. The quarter ended with a 15-11 James River lead, and it was time for the Eagles to respond.

The second stanza started out looking great for the Eagles as L. T. Woods and Josh Sarratt hit back-to-back jumpers to tie the game at 15-15 with 6:23 left. The Rapids had an answer and it was Jordan again from long range to give James River an 18-15 lead. A Martin Kawa jumper and a couple of free throws from Woods gave the Forge the lead back at 19-18 with 3:47 left until halftime.

The two teams went back and forth the rest of the stanza but the Eagles were allowing too many James River chances as they were losing the battle of the glass as well. That led to multiple Rapids chances at the foul line. Forge’s big man Josh Osakwe got into foul trouble, Mills went to L.T. Woods for his inside presence, and he stepped up. “L.T. came in and did a fantastic job of being ready, especially when we didn’t get everything rolling early,” Mills said. “Josh (Osakwe) got into foul trouble and we always say, next man up and our biggest thing is we need to defend on the defensive end”.

When we look back over this streak, one constant has been the play of the Eagles coming out of the locker room for the second half. The Forge came out a little feisty as they scored four of their first five possessions and holding the Rapids to a single field goal to take a 32-26 lead with 4:50 left in the third. The Rapids Logiin Norton stopped the bleeding briefly, as he hit a three but then James River went on a turnover run that hindered their offense.

Just under 4 minutes left the Eagles stretched the lead to double digits and started to silence the Rapid student section who was at times embarrassed by a small but throaty GREEN WALL. During the run, a Kawa jumper that was followed up by the Eagle defense causing a 5 second call on the Rapids. Elijah Sarratt hit two free throws and on the next trip Kawa hit a “BULLS-EYE” from Broad Street to give the Forge a 39-29 lead.

Late in the third, the Eagles got Osakwe back on the floor and he hit a jumper from the right corner and the man we call “E” (Elijah Sarratt) hit a corner BOMB at the buzzer that sent the Forge to winning time with a 44-31 lead.

The Eagles had the lead, but they knew that the Rapids had at least one more good run….and fortunately for the “good guys” it did not come until there was less than 4 minutes left in the contest. James River turned up the defensive pressure and gave the Eagles a little bit of their own medicine. It was also the Forge not taking care of the ball as they went on a little turnover barrage that brought James River back into the game.

In the final two minutes, the Rapids had it down to single digits and they scored on five consecutive possessions to cut the Eagle lead to 54-51 with just 29 seconds left.  It was the Forge senior leadership that took the oars and steered the ship late. With the Eagles struggling to break the James River press, Josh Sarratt found Kawa all by himself for an easy bucket, and Josh Osakwe hit two crucial free throws with 21.2 seconds left to give the Forge a 56-51 win, a regional championship trophy and a spot in the state quarters on Friday against Oscar Smith.

The next few days, Mills and his staff will prepare for until now a foreign opponent. “These lovely coaches will go studying like they’ve been doing”, said Mills. “I gotta take my hat off to these guys, they’ve been spending long hours, up getting tape and doing everything I need them to do”. One thing for sure, these coaches will study, and the team will be ready to play on Friday night. Trusting the process has built this run, and the smiles on the players faces postgame are a stark contrast to the faces we saw after that January meeting…..53 days ago!


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