The Region 6D boys basketball title was there for the taking when Centreville hosted Washington-Liberty on Friday in a battle of programs unfamiliar with cutting down the nets at this level.
And with just enough thievery created by the Wildcats’ perimeter defense, Centreville stole the show and claimed the school’s first-ever boys basketball region title with a 51-43 win.
A methodical half-court game that featured the Generals’ crafty backcourt against the taller Wildcats lineup, Centreville (20-6) used its length to do enough to disrupt the flow of W-L’s motion offense, resulting in no fewer than six turnovers and subsequent transition layups, including three on dunks.
That made a big difference in a testy game where points mostly came at a premium. Senior transfer Mekhai Washington, an impassioned 6-foot-5 forward who frequently defended near the three-point line, often was in the middle of that disruptive action or was the fast-breaking beneficiary of turnovers his teammates forced.
Washington comes from North Little Rock High and competed as a sophomore on its state tournament team. He recently relocated to Northern Virginia, in part, to be with his cousins.
“I love to make history,” Washington said. “I’m a very animated and high-intensity player. We picked their pockets today. Our defense has been solid all season.”
Senior teammate John Hunter, a fourth-year varsity player, scored eight points and also contributed — along with Lance Douglas — to the efforts to frustrate Generals’ senior backcourt of all-region players Marino Dias (second-team) and Anthony Reyes (first-team).
“With Mekhai, you just get out of his way, because he’s going to make buckets,” Hunter said. “He’s going to carry us to a state title.”
Washington is capable of as much. During the regular season, he dominated a strong Fairfax squad with 30 points and 13 rebounds in a 52-49 win.
Friday, Washington committed two fouls in the first quarter and saw limited action in the second quarter. Down 22-20 at halftime, he took over in the third quarter, scoring 12 of his 16 points, including two three-pointers. W-L scored just five points and hit only one field-goal attempt in the third quarter while Wildcats opened a 37-27 advantage.
With the efforts of Avery Ford (14 points), the lead grew to 45-29 with 5:28 left in the game after Washington stole the ball and scored at the other end. A three-pointer by Dias (nine points) cut the lead to 47-41 with about a minute to go, and W-L twice had possession in the next 20 seconds, but its three-point attempts rimmed out on possessions watched by Washington from the bench after he fouled out with 1:35 to play.
“Centreville being able to force that many steals surprised me,” said Generals’ coach Bobby Dobson, in his 27th season at the helm. “We went into the game believing that if we could make it a five-on-five game, we’d be in good shape. The transition baskets we allowed didn’t help us.”
Reyes (six points) said Centreville was the stronger team after intermission. “We let up on the gas pedal in the second half,” he said. “They were stronger with the ball. We had an off-night shooting. A lot of my shots felt good coming out of my hands, but they went in and out of the basket. Things just didn’t go my way.”
Said Hunter, “We knew [W-L] was going to shoot threes. We knew they could handle the ball, [defensively] we just tried to make them do things that they didn’t want to do.”
The tight-checking, chippy game included an intentional foul and three technical fouls (technicals were called on consecutive sequences early in the fourth quarter).
The loss stopped W-L’s improbable postseason run as the fourth seed from the Liberty District. It lost four games in a row before topping Westfield in a play-in game Feb. 17. The region final was the 6th game in 11 days for the Generals (16-11). W-L’s only region title came in 1966 and this season marked its first appearance in the region semifinals since 1987.
Centreville, which opened in 1988, had claimed many district titles, including those of the past three seasons. “The only thing better than this would be a state title,” Hunter said.
Both teams advance to Friday’s first round of the state tournament and will face opponents from the Occoquan Region. Centreville’s game will be played at Westfield High. W-L will play on the road.
“We persevered tonight, and all season, really,” said Wildcats coach Kevin Harris. “It’s been a next-man-up mentality. We’ve had high hopes during the entire season, especially at the start of the playoffs once we got most of our players back and healthy. We wanted to get rolling, taking it one game at a time. [Tonight] we were able to get in their lanes and limit their outside shooting.”
Centreville, which has won six games in a row, lost its starting point guard, returning all-Conference selection Chris Kuzemka to a torn ligament before the season began. Douglas and Connor Shanton also missed 10-11 games each with a variety of ailments — both are now back and playing.
“Chris has still been such a positive influence for this team,” Harris said. “He’s been to all of our practices and has supported everything we do.”