Rams reclaim Brantley title

Published 9:22 am Friday, November 25, 2011

AHOSKIE – After the first basket, things seemed normal.

Lawrence Academy led the Lt. Nick Brantley Scholarship Tournament championship game in the varsity boys division. It was the fourth straight finals appearance and the Warriors were coming off back-to-back championships.

Rival Ridgecroft School had other ideas though. The Rams hadn’t won the tournament – which is sponsored jointly by United Country Joe Murray Realty and the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald – since 2006, its first year in existence. After that event, Rams’ Head Coach Chris Hill was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Six tournaments later, Hill’s team rolled off 10 straight after Lawrence’s first bucket and never looked back as they rolled to a 53-26 win.

Julian Becker, the 2011 MVP, scored 23 points to pace Ridgecroft’s victory. Michael Byrum, who was named All-Tournament, added 22 points. Austin Foster, the third Ram on the All-Tourney team, scored four as did Max Boone.

Lawrence was led by the nine points from All-Tournament selection Chase Stevens.

“We came into it expecting them to be bigger than us and they were,” Hill said. “We wanted to pack it in, hopefully get them into foul trouble and then run on them and that’s what we were able to do.

“If you play sound defense and score quickly, that’s a good recipe for a win,” he added.

After the Darren Armstrong hoop that opened the game, Becker rolled off eight straight points followed by a Boone hoop that pushed Ridgecroft ahead 10-2.

Cody Ambrose stopped the spurt with a hoop for Lawrence, but Byrum scored back-to-back buckets that helped the host squad lead 14-4 at the end of the first period.

Lawrence started the second quarter well with Stevens, Armstrong and Anthony Rascoe hitting successive scored to close the gap to 14-10.

Becker stopped the spurt with a three-pointer, but Ambrose answered with a score that kept it with 17-12.

Byrum responded with a triple that was followed by an Austin Foster score and another Byrum hoop to help Ridgecroft moved ahead 24-12.

Nathaniel Holton stopped the spurt with a bucket for Lawrence, but a pair of free throws by Becker sent the Rams into intermission with a 26-14 lead.

The host squad came out on fire in the second half with Byrum scoring the first seven points followed by hoops from Foster and Boone as Ridgecroft pushed their lead to 37-24 with two minutes to play in the third quarter.

The only other basket scored during the period was a field goal from Hunter Askew that helped the Warriors get within 37-16.

Askew hit another hoop to start the fourth quarter and that sparked a 5-2 run for the Warriors that closed the gap to 39-21.

Becker stopped the spurt with a free throw, but Stevens hit a pair from the charity stripe and buried one from behind the arc as Lawrence got within 40-26.

The run stopped there, however, as Ridgecroft scored the final 13 points of the game to secure their second championship in the tournament.

“A couple of guys read the newspaper and brought up the fact we hadn’t won it since I played,” Hill said. “I stopped that pretty quickly. I reminded them this is a new team, a new coach and a new system and we need to play the way we’re supposed to and not worry about the past.

“My main goal has been to get them to trust their instincts,” he added. “I want them to know when to make their moves and when to cover for each other on defense and I think we’re getting there.”

As for becoming the first person to win the tournament as a player and coach, Hill said it was an honor, but that he was more focused on what the tournament meant.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to meet the Brantleys when I played in the tournament and to see them here and what this tournament has meant to them is what I think is important,” he said. “Winning it for them is what is important to me.”

Ridgecroft improved to 3-0 in Hill’s first year as coach. Lawrence dropped to 1-1.