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Hot shooting drives Stone Bridge past Potomac Falls

Coming out of a timeout late in the third quarter, the Stone Bridge Bulldogs executed their called offensive play to perfection, setting up Branden Curry's 3-pointer from the right elbow for a 44-40 lead going to the fourth quarter of a Conference 14 boys' basketball game.

That margin only grew in the final stanza, ending with a Bulldogs' 64-56 road win versus the Potomac Falls Panthers Feb. 5 in Sterling.

Stone Bridge head coach Corey Stitzel pumped his arm as Curry's hoist fell through, a move he had abundant reason to make that night.

"For the first quarter, really the first half, we didn't make shots. Then Curry hit a couple threes, Evan [Buckley] hit two big threes, [John] Bohanon hit one," Stitzel said.

The Bulldogs (12-6) pocketed nine three-balls, six of those in the second half.

"I thought tonight we were tough. Mentally tough."

The Panthers (12-7) owned all the early momentum, holding their guests to six first-quarter points and mounting a 10-point advantage.

Big Dondrea Tillman grabbed rebounds and converted buckets inside, tall freshman Ian Anderson made layups and took charges, Grant Misch swatted away a Stone Bridge shot leading directly to Brian Sweeney's 3-pointer, and the Panther Pit was roaring.

"I thought we were ready. We seemed ready," Potomac Falls head coach Jeff Hawes said. "We executed everything we'd talked about in the first quarter. Then we got away from the things that were working for us. We quit moving defensively, they got some good looks, and they hit them. They earned it, but we self-destructed a little bit."

The Bulldogs edged back within five by halftime, then exploded into the second half. Lackluster shooting gave way to dead-eye accuracy, and a barrage of shots began hitting their marks. Stone Bridge's Curry, Buckley, Ben Kling and Colin Jachimowski took turns nailing long-distance shots.

The visitors upped their lead to 52-44 with six minutes remaining, when Buckley - a freshman receiving Division I collegiate interest - hit a 3-pointer. John Bohanon then blocked Tillman's shot, setting up Buckley's driving scoop that hung on the rim and fell in.

For the Bulldogs, it was a matter of playing keepaway and taking free throws from then on.

"We have great respect for Potomac Falls," said Stitzel, whose Bulldogs have swept the vaunted Panthers for the second straight year. "Jeff does a great job, has a great program. But I give my kids credit. They went on the road tonight and showed me that we've got a run left in us."

Potomac Falls and Stone Bridge are jockeying for position in the jumbled Conference 14, a five-school all-Loudoun circuit including Briar Woods, Broad Run and Tuscarora. The Huskies, at 18-1 and undefeated in-conference, are "in the driver's seat," Hawes said.

"It's still a big fight for two through five," the Panther coach said about the conference standings. "We're all pretty good, to be honest. Everyone has a winning record.... I think we could be a dangerous team."

The Bulldogs have little time to enjoy their win. They have to immediately prepare for Tuscarora's visit to Ashburn on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers take the court next when they host Rock Ridge Monday night.

Stone Bridge was again without the services of senior Nick Barnes, another high-level college prospect. Stitzel hopes the injured 6-foot-7 forward can return for the upcoming postseason, as he is key if the Bulldogs are to reach their seasonal goal.

"We're cautiously optimistic," said Stitzel of Barnes' potential return.

At the break of every huddle, instead of "Bulldogs!" or "Team!" or any other such epithet, the Stone Bridge players intone "States!"

"Last year, we said 'Banner!' because Stone Bridge had never won a [championship] banner [in boys' basketball]," Stitzel explained. "Last year we fell one win short of going to states. So this year, we're saying 'States!'"

Stone Bridge 64, Potomac Falls 56

-SB: Buckley 17, Curry 14, Jachimowski 11, Bohanon 10, Kling 10, Martin 2

-PF: Sweeney 12, Tillman 11, Anderson 9, Cox 9, Misch 5, Walls 4, Nemer 3, Smith 3

-Halftime: PF 27-22

-3-pointers: SB 9 (Curry 3, Buckley 2, Kling 2, Bohanon, Jachimowski); PF 3 (Sweeney 2, Smith)

-Free throws: SB 15 of 22; PF 14 of 18


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