Postseason run ends at states

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Playing in an unfamiliar gym in front of a hostile crowd against the defending state champions, it’s easy to see the kind of opponent the boys basketball team was up against in the first round of the Virginia AAA State Tournament on March 5. After the best season in AHS history, the Atoms’ season ended with a 49-43 loss to I.C. Norcom.

“I’m very pleased [with our team’s effort],” Head Coach Anthony Harper said. “We came out and played hard and weren’t in awe of their team or their record.”

The Atoms came into the game at a severe disadvantage with Eastern Region Champion I.C. Norcom having home-court advantage. This advantage was more than just being close to home, however. The Greyhounds had the benefit of playing on The College of William and Mary’s gym floor during their regional tournament and, with the exception of one small section behind the AHS bench, had the entirety of the stadium cheering for them. The Atoms, however, did not let this affect them.

“We weren’t at all intimidated [by Norcom],” junior Monte McCarthy said. “We played them earlier during the summer and beat them so we were confident in ourselves and our ability.”

The Atoms came out strong and held a 14-12 lead at the end of the first quarter behind strong 3-point shooting from sophomore Sanar Shamdeen.

“We came out with more heart than they did and I think that they underestimated us early,” senior Karl Ziegler said.

In the second quarter, Norcom senior Dorian Finney-Smith, who is the No. 25 high school basketball recruit in the nation according to maxpreps.com, set the tone defensively for the Greyhounds and brought his team back into the lead. Norcom led 27-22 with less than 30 seconds left to go in the half, but a put-back by Ziegler cut the lead to three as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

Senior D’Angelo Boyce knocked down a deep 3-pointer from the top of the arc to start the second half and tie the game at 27. From there, the teams went back and forth with the Atoms eventually taking a 37-36 lead into the fourth quarter.

After the Atoms built up a three-point lead, the Greyhounds stepped it up defensively and shut down the AHS offense. With 1:30 left in the game, Norcom led 45-43 and was able to corral a loose ball and turn it into an easy lay-up. After a missed shot and a turnover, the Atoms were forced to foul and Norcom was able to make just enough free throws to seal the 49-43 win and advance to the state semi-finals.

“It came down to not hitting shots at the end of the game,” Harper said. “We were missing shots and they picked up their defensive intensity. Our ball screens weren’t as effective as they had been earlier in the game and key calls from the refs in the last two minutes kind of broke us down.”

In the game, the Atoms were led by Ziegler’s 14 points and Shamdeen’s 12 points. Senior Melvin Robinson added 10 points and led the team with 8 rebounds.

Despite the loss, this year’s team will go down as the best team in AHS history. No other boys basketball team had even advanced to the regional semi-finals; much less the state tournament.

“We had good senior leadership with Karl, Melvin, D’Angelo and Greg [Nielsen],” Harper said. “They worked hard when we needed it and we finished strong down the stretch of games this season. In previous years we might’ve lost some of those close games we won this year.”

The team is losing six seniors this year in Ziegler, Boyce, Robinson, Nielsen, Peter Hagen and Matt McCartney, but looks to continue the success from this season into next behind Shamdeen, McCarthy, junior Tyler Schwartz and junior Reggie Scott.

“Even though we lost, it’s a great feeling to be known and hopefully remembered as the best team in AHS basketball history,” Ziegler said.