|Times-Mirror File Photo/Beverly Denny. The Potomac Falls basketball team defeated Loudoun County 70-53 to qualify for the state tournament for the fourth consecutive year. The Panthers will face Millbrook in the regional title game Feb. 23 at home.|
For Jeff Hawes, the Potomac Falls basketball program is shrouded in history. Hawes has led the program since the school's inception. Flanking his side as assistant coaches are two former players, Brandon Jackson and Darien Almond.
And during a Region II Division 4 boys semifinal win against Loudoun County Feb. 21, Hawes saw glimpses of the 2010 and 2011 state champion Panther squads.
“The tradition we've built pushes them to want to back up the name on their chests: Panther basketball. We're very organized and very passionate about everything we do,” Hawes said. “You combine that with the talent and the dedication that everyone puts in and it's been very rewarding.”
Potomac Falls downed Loudoun County 79-53 at home in Sterling, earning the Panthers a trip to the regional finals and another appearance in the state tournament.
Though the Raiders scored the first points of the contest, when Robbie Supcoe swished a three, they would lead for only two minutes in the game.
The Panthers began a scoring frenzy, notching 27 points in the first quarter alone, including 15 from behind the arc. Moreover, Potomac Falls implemented their staunch backcourt press, forcing the Raiders into seven turnovers within the first eight minutes of regulation.
“The kids came out ready to roll and had a good mindset,” Hawes said. “That might be the best eight or nine minutes to start out a game we've had all year.”
The Panthers continued their onslaught into the second quarter. Point guard D'Shawn Shorts hit the Panthers' sixth 3-pointer less than a minutes in the quarter. Junior Matt Mologne ended the quarter with his second jumper of the night to put the Panthers up 45-22 at halftime.
“When you get in a hole like that against a good team, you're just fighting an uphill battle,” Raider coach Mark Alexander said.
The tempo in the second half slowed, as the Raiders adjusted a defense to cope with the blistering Panthers. The Raiders outscored the Panthers 14-13 in the third, led by junior Quan Stinger's six points in the quarter.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the game proved to be out of reach for Loudoun County and both teams emptied their benches for the final three minutes of play.
Much of the Potomac Falls' strategy depended on stifling Loudoun County guard Michael Anderson, the Dulles District Division 4 Player of the Year. Anderson, who has averaged 19 points per game this season, was held to just seven in the semifinal game.
“He pulled a groin the other night, and we were still doing trick defenses on him,” Hawes said of Anderson. “That just shows you you the respect I have for him and what he's done in his career.”
Freshman Michael Janowski and Wanya Allen led the game in scoring, with both earning 19 points a piece. Shorts also hit double digits with 12, and 10 Panthers recorded points in the contest. The Raiders were led by Connor Gore's 12 points, while Stinger and Supcoe each added 11.
While the Panthers move on to the regional title game, they do so with the loss of Steven Tondi, their 6-foot-7 starting center. Tondi injured his shoulder midway through the game and left for the hospital. Hawes does not anticipate a return in time for the final.
“We have some pretty good depth, so somebody is going to have to step up. Hopefully, we get him back. If not, we have to keep rolling,” Hawes said.
The Panthers hope their depth will help account for their missing man in the middle and will lead them to victory over Millbrook in the Region II Division 4 finals, scheduled for Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at Potomac Falls.
Hawes hopes the Panthers' history will help them win their third state title, a goal they fell short of last year in the state semifinals.
“Once upon a time, getting to the state tournament seemed out of reach,” Hawes said. “It never gets old.”
Potomac Falls 70, Loudoun County 53
PF: Janowski 19, Allen 19, Shorts 12, Orbe 6, Tondi 6, Mologne 5, Braxton 4, Thomas 3, Sweeney 3, Fischetti 2
LC: Gore 12, Stinger 11, Supcoe 11, Anderson 7, Herring 5, Labahn 3, Larson 2, Borup 2
Halftime: Potomac Falls 45, Loudoun County 22
3-pointers: PF 7 (Janowski 2, Shorts 2, Thomas 1, Tondi 1, Sweeney 1); LC 6 (Supcoe 3, Anderson 1, Labahn 1, Gore 1)
FT: PF (8 of 13), LC (7 of 16)
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