Despite a boys basketball season that started late as the football team made a third straight VHSL state title run and a roster that included just one senior in uniform Feb. 21, Briar Woods came within a shot of advancing to the state tournament as it fell to an experienced Millbrook squad, 70-67, in the Region II Division 4 semifinals.
Briar Woods sophomore Connor Gaines, one of three sophomore starters, dropped 25 points on the night, including five 3-pointers in the first half as the Falcons turned a 11-point first-quarter deficit into a 43-38 halftime lead.
The Falcons, down by three with 10 seconds left, got the ball in Gaines' hands and he got off a tough 3-pointer that just missed, hitting the back of the rim.
The loss ended the career of senior Jake Ryan, who scored 21 points and drew the attention of college scouts in the stands, and Kevin Galang, who didn't dress out due to concussion issues. Sophomore Darrell Ramey had a huge game inside for Briar Woods with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
"Had a great four years playing BWoods basketball!," Ryan posted on his Twitter feed after the tough loss. "I'm not gonna focus on this lose. I gave it my all and it just wasn't enough."
Galang's absence in the backcourt was nothing new for the Falcons that had to utilize four different point guards this season, according to coach Mike Benson.
Millbrook senior Rze Culbreath took advantage of the Falcons' young backcourt with a double-double of 27 points and 10 steals. Many of the steals led directly to easy layins for the Pioneers as they forced a total of 19 Briar Woods turnovers while committing just nine.
It was the second time on the year that Culbreath had bedeviled the Falcons with pressure as he scored 27 points with 12 steals in Millbrook's 53-46 win on Dec. 12 that spoiled Briar Woods' season opener.
That opener for Briar Woods came two weeks after other schools started playing as they awaited the resolution of the football season.
When the dust settled, the grueling football campaign took its toll as Matt Rolin, one of the top rebounders in the Dulles District, was recovering from a knee injury and enrolled early to the University of Florida in January where he will play SEC football. Two other football players that would have supplied athleticism and depth, senior Devin Ramos and junior Trace McSorley, also did not play this season.
The youth movement took some time to sort out but after being under .500 most of the season, Briar Woods clicked in January, winning eight of 10, as they moved into February and playoff time neared.
"People don't realize how far we have come," said Benson.
Briar Woods evened the series with Millbrook during this stretch, knocking off the Pioneers in Winchester, 54-52, on Jan. 21 when Ryan caught and fired a turnaround 3-pointer with one second left to give the Falcons the win. In this game, Culbreath was "limited" to 18 points and six steals. Culbreath is averaging 20.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.5 steals per game.
Both teams came in with almost identical records, Briar Woods finishes the season at 14-11 and Millbrook will take a 14-10 mark into Saturday's 6 p.m. Region II Division 4 title game at Potomac Falls. Both teams will advance to the state tournament, regardless of Saturday's outcome.
The difference was experience as Millbrook is a team built for a playoff run with all its starters and the first player off the bench all seniors.
The game was tight in the first quarter, 16-13 Millbrook, when the Pioneers started a run that would build into a 11-point advantage. Senior co-captain Thomas Baylor drained a wide open 3-pointer to start things followed by the other co-captain, Culbreath hitting two free throws and then swiping the ball after the inbounds for a quick hoop. When he did the trick again it was 25-14 Pioneers with 30 seconds left in the quarter.
Ryan righted the Falcons ship by draining a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to end the quarter.
Down, 27-17, in the second quarter, Gaines caught fire, hitting 3-pointers sandwiched around a sweet jumper in a 90-second span. Ramey's follow-in tied it 27-27 with 4:29 left in the half and Briar Woods pushed ahead on another Ryan 3-pointer. The lead would be five at the half as Gaines dropped a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
It was tied 47-47 midway through the third quarter, when Millbrook regained the lead with Culbreath's pretty layin tying it and then after a steal he swished a 3-pointer and seconds later poked the ball away again and scored to make it 52-47 Pioneers.
Briar Woods fought back with Ramey doing work inside and led 54-52 but the Falcons could have had a bigger lead but shot just 11 of 19 from the foul line in the game, including a couple of misses late in the third. Millbrok was 18 of 24 from line.
It appeared the Falcons would lead heading into the final quarter but Culbreath, who else, turned a steal into a layin with 40 seconds left to tie the game and then senior Cody Brooks hit a late 3-pointer to put Millbrook up 57-54 heading into the fourth.
Briar Woods would never lead the game again as Millbrook edge out ahead 60-56 on sophomore Zach Harrell's trey with 6:35 left. That 3-pointer came after an offensive rebound and during this stretch the Pioneers had second chances on the offensive end on five out of six possessions.
Down by four with 2:14 left and faced with the quick Millbrook guards ability to dribble and pass the clock out, Briar Woods was forced to foul on each trip, sending the Pioneers to the line seven times and Millbrook went 8 of 12 and more importantly 4 of 5 in the final 51 seconds from the line.
Briar Woods gave itself a chance to win with Gaines hitting a basket with 12.3 seconds left to make it 69-67 and when Culbreath made one of two free throws with 10.8 seconds to go there was life for yet another Briar Woods buzzer beater.
But this time it didn't happen for the Falcons as the shot bounced away, the Pioneers in their powder blue uniforms dogpiled Culbreath in front of their bench and Benson briefly buried his head in his hands realizing his young team's run would finish one game shy of the state tournament.
-Dan "Double Dribble" Sousa is the http://www.VivaLoudoun.com
Millbrook 70, Briar Woods 67
MB (25-13-19-13 - 70)
BW (17-26-11-13 - 67)
Player FG (3 Pts) FT = Pts
Culbreath 10-18 (1-5) 6-8 = 27
DeNeal 4-7 (2-3) 3-4 = 13
Brooks 3-6 (1-1) 3-4 = 10
Baylor 1-3 (0-0) 4-5 = 6
Harrell 2-6 (2-6) 0-1 = 6
Bruce 1-3 (0-0) 2-2 = 4
Trexler 2-9 (0-0) 0-0 = 4
Totals 23-52 (6-15) 18-24 = 70
Player FG (3 Pts) FT = PTS
Gaines 10-22 (5-12) 0-0 =27
Ryan 7-16 (3-7) 4-7 = 21
Ramey 5-9 (0-0) 7-10 = 17
Hatcher 2-5 (0-0) 0-0 = 4
Carter 0-2 (0-1) 0-2 = 0
Totals 24-54 (8-20) 11-19 = 67
MB 27 (Trexler 7, Bruce 6, TEAM 5, Brooks 3, Culbreath 2, Kibbe 2, Russell 1, DeNeal 1).
BW 35 (Ramey 15, Hatcher 8, Ryan 6, Carter 4, Gaines 1, Nicholson 1).
-Turnovers: Millbrook 9; Briar Woods 19