They came up short in their quest for a conference title. They came up short in their quest for a regional title. None of that matters at all to the Woodson Cavaliers now.
That’s because Saturday night at VCU’s Siegel Center Woodson won a state title. Senior guard Jason Aigner led the way with 26 points as the Cavs defeated a tough Hylton team in overtime, 55-50. Amazingly with all the talent Woodson has had over the years–George Burgin, Tommy Amaker, Eric Bowles and so on–it was the school’s first state championship in basketball.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of years of hard work,” Woodson coach Doug Craig said. “Woodson has had a great basketball tradition for a long time. It’s not just this team, it’s not just the basketball program’s title–it’s the whole school’s, the whole community’s. We’ve always had great support, so this is really for all the Cavaliers.”
His team got great support Saturday night from a raucous student section, and the Cavaliers needed every bit of it against a Hylton team that wasn’t about to quit. Woodson jumped to an early double-digits lead, but the tenacious Bulldogs battled back to take a 26-24 lead going into the half. Hylton sharp-shooter Marcus Stephens was key early, scoring eight first half points off the bench to pace the Bulldogs’ attack.
“So proud of my kids,” Hylton coach Barry Smith said after the game. “Being down ten early, under the bright lights we fought back.”
In the second half it was time for the seniors to shine. 6’5″ swingman Dwayne Hill started to take over for the Bulldogs on offense, posting up, driving the lane and burying a three. Aigner had eight at halftime but really started to assert himself after the break. Known as a deadly three-point shooter around the region he showed there was much more to his game than that.
Despite giving up at least four inches of height to Hill, Aigner started to limit the Bulldogs’ star on offense in the fourth quarter. He also highlighted the diversity of his offensive game, driving the lane and posting up. Most importantly he started to get to the line. There the senior with ice in his veins wasn’t bothered at all by the pressure of the game’s importance. Aigner buried all 11 of his free throws on the evening.
“People who watch my game at first glance think I’m just a shooter,” Aigner said after the game. “I don’t regard myself as having a specific skill set, I just do whatever it takes to win and my goal is to always want it more than the guy I’m guarding.”
The final minutes of the game were exciting to watch. Woodson led 45-42 with under a minute left in regulation when Hylton’s Chris Mansker attacked the lane and scored to make it 45-44 with 33 seconds left. A turnover on the inbounds pass gave Hylton the ball right back and after Woodson committed a few fouls they had to give, Hill sunk an impressive jumper with 12 seconds left to give the Bulldogs the lead.
But Hylton (21-10) fouled Woodson guard Matt Urbach on the Cavaliers’ last possession and the junior made one of two free throws to send the game into overtime. There things really got interesting.
The Bulldogs kept sending Woodson to the line where they made a living all season. Senior guard Simon Mulaa hit two free throws and Urbach again made one of two to give the Cavaliers a 49-46 lead. Mansker again responded for Hylton, scoring to cut the deficit to 49-48. After thrilling back-to-back steals by Hylton’s Joshua Jones and Mulaa, Hylton made the mistake of fouling Aigner, whose free throws made it 51-48.
Hylton’s Ryan Sanders missed on a drive, but the Bulldogs got the ball back after drawing a charge. Mansker again delivered a clutch basket for the Bulldogs to draw them within one with 17.7 seconds left in the extra period. Hylton again showed remarkable resiliency, almost forcing a turnover before Woodson called a time out with 10.7 seconds left.
Aigner received the ball on the in-bounds when his defender fell down trying to deny him the ball. Apparently wisely not wanting to foul Aigner, the Bulldogs nevertheless waited too long to foul Urbach, who drained two free throws with only 1.7 seconds left. Hylton had a chance to go the length of the court but after in-bounding the ball to half-court the referees whistled the Bulldogs for calling a timeout they didn’t have. Aigner hit two more free throws, and the Cavaliers celebration was on.
The Cavaliers (26-6) hit 21 free throws on the evening to Hylton’s six, an obvious difference in the game. The Cavaliers seemed to be able to do that consistently all year, to their credit. Not the most athletic or physically imposing team, Woodson just seemed to smartly do what was necessary to win. No one typified that style of play more than the Christopher Newport-bound Aigner.
“Hylton’s just a good team,” Craig said. “They’re an outstanding team who deserved to be here and they proved that tonight. We just try to find a way to win and get the ball in Jason’s hands as much as possible.”
stats are official
|Team Rebounds: 2|
|Threes: Aigner 3-8, Urbach 1-6, Mulaa 0-1, Spurlock 0-1|
|Team Rebounds: 4|
|Threes: Hill 1-1, Mansker 1-1, Tshibangu 1-1, Stephens 1-3, Sanders 0-1, Jones 0-1, Norwood 0-1|