The Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs (17-6) went up against Portsmouth (18-4) on Saturday night, a team that had beaten Peebles earlier in the year 67-46, and play arguably their best game of the year. Gage Waits led all scores on the night, breaking out for 26 points on the night, in the 55-53 loss that ended the season for the Lynchburg squad.
The game started with Portsmouth scoring the first five points on a layup and a three pointer, but the Mustangs quickly got back into the game with a jumper in the lane by Ryan Inman and a three pointer of their own by Gage Waits. At the 5:03 mark, Lynchburg-Clay took the lead with a three poiter by Devin Pierson, his first of two on the night, to make it 8-7. Portsmouth came right back with a basket under the rim to take the lead back but with 3:56 left in the first, Josh Arhmann made a basket in traffic to make the score 10-9. Portsmouth then went on a eight point run to end the quarter with a lead of 17-10.
Lynchburg-Clay outscored Portsmouth by two in the second quarter to bring themselves back to within five at halftime with a score of 27-22, but in the third quarter, Portsmouth turned it back on to take a ten point lead, going up on the Mustangs 44-34 going into the final frame of play.
At the sound of the buzzer to start the fourth and final frame of the game, both teams got standing ovations from their respective crowds and the gym turned into a high intensity and high decibel atmosphere.
Senior Gage Waits put the Mustangs on his shoulders in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 of his 26 total points in the final eight minutes of play. He started the quarter by driving the lane and putting up a contested and acrobatic layup that spun its way into the basket to cut the lead to eight with a score of 44-36. Portsmouth was fouled on their next possession and were able to only make one shot at the charity stripe. Gage Waits drove the lane again on Lynchburg’s next possession, unable to make the shot but was fouled and sent to the line where his drained both free throws. Waits had no trouble at the line on Saturday night, going 10 for 10. With 5:43 left to play, he showed this again, making another two free throws to bring the Mustangs back to within five points with a score of 45-40.
This is when Lynchburg decided to turn up the heat on the No. 3 seeded Trojans, throwing a press at them.
On the first play after the Mustangs started to press, the Trojans were unable to get the ball past the time-line in the allotted ten seconds, turning the ball over and giving Lynchburg another shot to edge closer to a win.
Neither team was able to get on the scoreboard for the next minute but a foul sent Portsmouth to the line at the 4:46 mark where, again, they were only able to capitalize on one shot, 46-40. On the Mustangs next time down the court, Waits drove once again, only this time, he sucked the defense towards him and dished a nice pass to Ryan Inman who put it up for an easy two bring Lynchburg back to within only four points. At 3:48 in the fourth Waits brought the Mustangs back within two points for the first time since the score was 12-10 in the first quarter. This forced a timeout by the Trojans to talk things over which sent the Lynchburg side of the gym into an uproar of support for their team.
After the timeout, Portsmouth made a quick basket to go back up four points but with 2:40 left in the game, Pierson was fouled and sent to the line. Lynchburg was in the bonus at this time and Pierson was able to make the first and the second shot to make it a two point game once again. Nine seconds later, Sky Oliver quieted the Mustangs with a deep three pointer to bring the score to 51-46 in favor of the Trojans.
Gage Waits wasn’t done yet.
On the play immediately following the three point basket by Oliver, Waits drove the lane once again, making the basket to pull his team back to within three. With 1:19 to play, Portsmouth struck again from behind the arc, this time by Kyre Allison to give the Trojans a five point lead. Gage Waits dribbled the length of the floor on the Mustangs next possession and drove the lane once again, putting up a shot with the contact. The shot found the bottom of the net and Waits made the following free throw for an old fashioned three point play to make the score 53-51.
One the next play, Lynchburg turned up the defense on a Portsmouth player, causing a jump ball. The possession arrow pointed in favor of the Mustangs, giving them a chance to tie the game back up for the first time since the first quarter. The Mustangs were unable to get a good look on their next play and coach Matt Carson called a timeout to set a play up. Lynchburg wasn’t able to get anything on their possession after the timeout and a foul on the other end of the court sent a Portsmouth player to the line for the one-and-one opportunity. Kyre Allison was unable to make the first shot and Lynchburg grabbed the rebound with a chance to tie the game up on their next play.
As it had been the whole fourth quarter, Gage Waits found himself with the ball in his hands and a lane to the basket. He drove through the Portsmouth defenders and threw up an off-balnced shot that went in with nine seconds left to play. Matt Carson called a quick timeout, his teams’ final timeout, before the Trojans could inbound the basketball.
With nine seconds on the clock, Portsmouth threw the ball inbounds and quickly dribbled the4 ball up the court. Sky Olliver got the ball on the right side of the key, and with two Mustangs in his face, threw up a last second, off balanced fade-away jumper that went through the basket just as time ran out, shattering the Mustangs comeback and winning the sectional title for his team.
“I told the guys, when [Portsmouth] called that timeout, we had held them scoreless for two and a half minutes,” Lynchburg head coach Matt Carson said after the heartbreaking loss. “We turned it up defensively. [Portsmouth] is a athletic basketball team. Sometimes it’s easy to sit over [in the stands] and say ‘stop them from doing this’ and ‘stop them from doing that,’ but there’s not a lot of people who have been able to stop them from doing stuff this year. We finally put together a solid last quarter. Credit their kid for making the shot. It was off-balanced with a hand in his face. That was a good shot. You have to tip your hat where credit is due.”
Carson also commented on Waits’ performance in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 of his 26 in the last eight minutes alone.
“Any time [this season] we’ve needed someone to step up, whether it be with defense, offense, or anything in between, Gage has stepped up,” Carson said of his senior guard. “I’m really proud of his effort tonight. He’s just a great kid. He put us on his back there in the fourth quarter.”
Carson said that no matter what, his players are champions in his book, and that he told them as much before the game.
“I told the guys before the game that we’re champions,” Carson explained. “We don’t need a trophy or a net to tell us that. We came up two points short tonight but I told them ‘that’s life.’ Sometimes you’re going to come up short and sometimes you’re going to win big. Tonight we came up a little short but I couldn’t be more proud of their effort. The effort the seniors have given to establish the program and get it where we want to get it. I hope, God willing, that there’s a lot of good future for this basketball program. This was a great basketball game tonight and a great atmoshpere and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
PHS – 17 10 17 11 – 55
LCHS – 10 12 12 19 – 53
Portsmouth: Oliver 4(3) 1/2 – 18, Allison 5(1) 5/7 – 18, Reynolds 1 4/4 – 6, Gibson 2 2/5 – 6, Lisath 1(1) – 5, Delotell 1 – 2. Totals: 14(5) 12/18 – 55.
Lynchburg-Clay: Waits 8(1) 7/7 – 26, R. Inman 5 1/2 – 11, Pierson (2) 2/2 0 8, Ahrmann 3 – 6, C. Inman 1 – 2. Totals: 17(3) 10/14 – 53.
Robert Stegbauer is a staff reporter for the Times-Gazette. He can reached by email at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at @RStegbauer.