Tigers Advance to EPL Semifinals; Earn Bid to National Prep Championship!

Benjamin J Veshi

Fresh off the heels of their 2024 First Piedmont Corp. Invitational championship, the Hargrave Tigers turned their sights to postseason play and the opportunity to defend their title at the Elite Prep League (EPL) Tournament in Richmond, Virginia on Tuesday February 27th.

The Tigers earned the #5 seed after going 2-4 in conference play during the regular season and drew the #4 seeded Colonels of Massanutten Military Academy, who the Tigers previously faced and fell to, 96-85, earlier in the month of February. After a slow start, Hargrave found themselves down 10-0, and, despite their best efforts, entered halftime with the same margin, trailing 37-27 at the break.

Even with the Hargrave offense getting great shots to start the second half, buckets just couldn’t seem to fall and Massanutten took advantage by pushing their lead to 45-27 early in the second half. Starting with a Ralph Akuta (Ijamsville, MD) basket and the foul, Hargrave rattled off a 20-0 run to grab a 47-45 advantage! The Tigers saw their lead balloon to as much as seven points during regulation but couldn’t close the door on Massanutten by the end of the second half after a Khalil Williams (Washington, DC) layup went in and out at the buzzer to force overtime.

In the final period, the Tigers had more gas left in the tank and they found a way to win, shooting 67% from the floor in the final five minutes, due in large part to some outstanding post play from Walt Andrews, Jr. (Bridgeport, CT; NJIT signee) while holding Massanutten to 10% shooting in overtime to secure the 87-78 victory to advance to Wednesday’s EPL Semifinals!

Tuesday’s standouts included:

Walt Andrews, Jr. (Bridgeport, CT; NJIT signee) — 24 points (11-19 FG), 10 assists, 7 rebounds

Khalil Williams (Washington, DC) — 21 points (7-17 FG), 10 rebounds, 3 assists

Ralph Akuta (Ijamsville, MD) — 16 points (7-11 FG), 8 rebounds, 3 blocks

Leland Coleman (Richmond, VA) — 12 points (6-11 FG), 11 rebounds, 2 steals

After the thrilling overtime victory in the first round, Hargrave found themselves matched up with a familiar foe, the #1 seeded Fork Union Military Academy Blue Devils. After a 12-6 advantage right out of the gate, the heavy legs from Tuesday came around for the Tigers and they went into the half trailing by 14. Despite a late push and some strong play from Khalil Williams (Washington, DC) and Nathan Savage (London, Ontario, CAN), Hargrave didn’t have enough in the tank as they fell to their rivals, 84-64.

Despite the loss, Wednesday wasn’t all bad for the Tigers as the National Prep Championship bracket came out at 6:00 PM eastern time and the Tigers, with their 18-4 record in the second semester, built up a strong enough resume in the committee’s eyes to earn the #15 seed and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen next week in Worcester, Massachusetts! Hargrave matches up with #2 Sunrise Christian Academy (Wichita, KS) to open the tournament at 10:00 AM on Tuesday March 5th at Clark University. The full bracket can be seen below!