For the third straight year, the Potomac Falls Panthers’ boys basketball team traveled to Richmond for the VHSL Division 4 state semifinals.
But unlike the previous two years, which saw Potomac Falls triumph en route to state titles, the Panthers fell in the semifinals, 66-52, to Christiansburg March 6.
“We’re not used to being in this position in this room,” joked an emotional Panthers coach Jeff Hawes when addressing the media.
Despite back-to-back state titles, the Panthers (21-9) seemed an unlikely candidate to reach the state tournament. The team graduated 10 seniors, returning only one starter, senior Greg Graves. After a three-game skid in January, the team that sat atop the Dulles District for two years was sitting at 11-7 this season.
“He never gave up on us,” Graves said of coach Hawes. “He pushes us every day. Always gives us something to work on. He doesn’t give up on us, and we never gave up on him.”
Graves, the Region II Division 4 Player of the Year and a Mount St. Mary’s commit, helped power the Panthers. After a tough January, the team made a remarkable turnaround, winning nine of its next 10 games, including their third consecutive Region II championship.
But Christiansburg, a school hungry for a state title after falling to Briar Woods in the Virginia Division 4 state football championship earlier this school year, proved too much to handle for Potomac Falls.
In a rematch of last year’s semifinal game, the Panthers started out strong. Despite eight points by Christianburg’s Brendon Motley in the first quarter, the Panthers seemed to be controlling the tempo. Matt Galloway and Brandon Orbe scored nine of the Panthers 13 points in the first.
In the second quarter, both the Blue Demons and the Panthers kept pace. A Motley 3-pointer started a six-point Christiansburg run. But the Panthers responded with two Graves layups and two Wanya Allen layups. Ultimately, the teams were tied 24-24 at the half.
“We were disappointed we were tied at half,” Hawes said. “We felt like we should have had a better cushion.”
In the third quarter, the momentum favored the Panthers early as Potomac Falls went on a 13-6 run. But a missed shot and turnover quickly turned the game around. Christiansburg Zach Davis made a critical layup, and Darius Kelly and Motley each drained two 3-pointers to give Christiansburg a 40-39 lead at the end of the third.
The Panthers were never able to regain the lead.
Christiansburg went on an 11-point run to start the fourth quarter, earning a 51-39 lead, before Todd Shanosky was able to break the Panthers’ drought with two free throws.
The Blue Demons had already garnered a significant lead and the momentum shift, which was too much for the Panthers to bear. Graves, usually Potomac Falls’ offensive leader, struggled from the floor, as shots repeatedly rimmed out and were gobbled up by Blue Demon rebounders.
“I just couldn’t get the feel for the game,” Graves said. “I was just in a slump, and it was hard to get out of.”
Graves, along with Orbe and Shanosky, finished the night with 11 points each, while Galloway added nine.
Christiansburg’s Brendon Motley scored a game-high 20 points, including 12 from beyond the arc and seven rebounds. Zach Davis added 15.
Despite a tough loss, the Panthers were able to reflect with pride on their season.
“What we’ve accomplished in the last five weeks, after being 11-7 and left for dead, I’m so proud of these kids,” Hawes said. “I’m proud of the effort these kids have given. It put us on the map to stay.”
Christiansburg 66, Potomac Falls 52
PF: Graves 11, Orbe 11 Shanosky 11, Galloway 9, Shorts 6, Allen 4
C: Motley 20, Davis 15, Snell 10, Johnson 8, Augustin 7, Kelly 5, Smith 1
Free throws: C 14-23; PF 14-21
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