The 2018-2019 season ended in heartbreaking fashion on Wednesday night as the Hargrave Tigers fell to Virginia Episcopal School, 40-39, in the VISAA Division 2 State Tournament Elite Eight. The Tigers capped off the season with a 13-12 record.
In the rubber match between Hargrave and Virginia Episcopal, both teams came into the game prepared, especially since they had faced off just 12 days prior. The Tigers, coming off a victory on Tuesday night, had no shortage of energy to start the game. After Virginia Episcopal scored the game's first basket, IJ Ezuma '21 (Raleigh, NC) knocked down a nothing-but-net three pointer to give the Tigers their initial lead. That momentum helped Hargrave to close out the first quarter with an 11-4 lead with a combination of stifling defense and timely shooting. Virginia Episcopal opened up the second quarter with a pair of free throws but Matt Brown, Jr. '19 (Kenosha, WI) nailed a three pointer to push the Hargrave lead to 14-6. The Tigers saw their lead grow to 20-9 after a Wade Thomas '19 (Danville, VA) corner three-pointer, the Tigers third of the first half, but Ezuma picked up his second foul and Virginia Episcopal was able to chip away at the Hargrave lead. Hargrave held a 21-17 advantage going into the locker room.
The third quarter was back and forth with both teams making runs. Virginia Episcopal cut their deficit to as little as two points but an Ezuma 17-footer on Hargrave's final third quarter possession gave the Tigers a 30-26 lead heading into the final quarter of play. Brown, Jr. opened the scoring with a big time three-pointer, his third of the game, to give the Tigers a 33-26 lead. But on the ensuing possession, Virginia Episcopal knocked down a deep three pointer, which kept it a two possession game. However, the Tigers rattled off the next four points with a Justin Campbell '20 offensive rebound putback and an Ezuma lay-up. The 37-29 advantage was the Tigers' biggest lead of the second half. After another Virginia Episcopal three-pointer, Nathan Kania '20 (Danville, VA) passed out of double team and connected with Ezuma for another lay-up, giving Hargrave a 39-32 lead with 1:30 remaining in regulation. Over the last 1:30 of the game, Hargrave missed three front end of one-and-ones from the free throw line and Virginia Episcopal had an answer for all of them. With 29.9 seconds remaining, Hargrave, still clinging to a 39-38 lead, needed to muster up the strength for one more stop but Virginia Episcopal grabbed an offensive rebound and put the game-winning bucket in with 1.8 seconds remaining on the clock. Thomas's half-court heave was off the mark and the game, and Hargrave's season, ended in heartbreak, 40-39.
Notable Performances Included:
Matt Brown, Jr. '19--19 points, 2 steals
IJ Ezuma '21--11 points, 4 rebounds
After the game, Coach Veshi said, "The big theme before the game and throughout every timeout tonight was a simple question, 'How do you want to spend tomorrow?' and for all but seven seconds of the game, we were on track to enjoy tomorrow but it was a tough way to have our season end. I'm so proud of us for gutting it out against a tough, talented, resilient Virginia Episcopal squad. I've got nothing but respect for those guys but this one really hurts. Our guys played their hearts out, they embraced being an underdog, and we almost made enough plays to win it. But to see the successes that our program has had over the past few years constantly makes me proud. We've made three straight Elite Eight appearances and we've had a chance to win them all. It was one heck of a ride this season and despite tonight's heartbreaking loss, I reminded our guys to leave the locker room with their heads held high. They represented themselves, this team, their families, and the Academy extremely well this season and I'm proud of every single one of them."
Coach Veshi is originally from Webster , Massachusetts, earned his Bachelors from Catawba College and earned his MBA from Nichols College.
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