The Loudoun County Captains erased a pair of fourth-quarter deficits to pull even with the host John Handley Judges in the Region 4C boys' basketball championship game Thursday in Winchester.
Handley would take the lead for good in the final minute. Senior Demitri Gardner capped a stellar game by draining a short jumper with 33 seconds left to lift the Judges to a 55-53 victory over the Captains.
Gardner finished with a game-high 22 points -- including a 3-pointer from just inside half court as the third quarter buzzer sounded -- to help send Handley (10-0) to the Virginia Class 4 state playoffs.
"They played great," County coach Mark Alexander said of Handley. "Demitri is a handful, he's a tough player."
The Captains (15-3) displayed the fight of a champion throughout the game. Trailing by seven following a baseline 3-pointer by Handley's Ke'Mani Curry, County reeled off eight straight points to take a 45-44 midway through the fourth quarter.
After falling behind 53-49, junior George Mwesigwa scored in the low post and senior Caleb Rexroad drained two free throws to pull the Captains even with 1:25 left in regulation.
That would be the final time County would score as a pair of chances in the closing seconds were off the mark.
"These guys have overcome everything they have faced this year," Alexander said of his team. "I can't say enough about the heart that these guys have. I'm very proud of them."
Rexroad led the Captains with 15 points, 11 coming in the second half. Mwesigwa scored 14 points and junior Brendan Boyers added 11.
County entered the regional final on a 15-game winning streak. The Captains repeated as Dulles District champions this season and advanced to the Region 4C championship game for a second consecutive year.
"Hopefully, the program is going in the right direction," Alexander said. "They are really good kids. I think sometimes that gets overlooked, but these kids are really nice kids and they have great character."
John Handley 55, Loudoun County 53
LC: Rexroad 15, Mwesigwa 14, Boyers 11, Brown 4, Daughtrey 4, West 3, Fitzpatrick 2
JH: Gardner 22, Lattimore 13, Fusco 9, Curry 7, Daley 2, Schwantes 2
Halftime: JH 26-23
Free throws: LC 7 of 10; JH 2 of 6
3-pointers: JH 3 (Gardner 2, Curry); LC 2 (Boyers, West)