RICHMOND—When the final horn sounded and the Louisa boys basketball team fell short of its goal of winning the school’s first ever basketball state championship, senior Chris Shelton turned to the Lions’ student section, pounded his chest and pointed at his classmates and friends to signal his appreciation.
Louisa had just fallen to George Washington–Danville 55–44 in the Class 4 state title game at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.
The contest was the culmination of a stellar career for Shelton, who was named Region 4B co-player of the year last month.
Shelton’s goal was to finish what his father and coach, Robert Shelton, helped start, when the Lions reached the Group AA state final in 1994 but suffered a 67–59 defeat to Salem.
The Lions (23–5) may have come up short of their ultimate goal once again, but afterward Chris Shelton and his father reflected on the community support and familial bond on the team that made this a special season.
“I feel like all 14 of these guys are my sons,” Robert Shelton said. “I coach them hard … I’m not the easiest guy to play for. Not all the time I have guys that come back. These guys stuck around and trusted me and believed in the coaching style that I have.”
It wasn’t much of a decision, of course, for Chris Shelton to stick around.
The 6-foot-3 sharpshooter picked up his father’s shooting stroke and even-keeled demeanor on the floor.
He scored 31 points and made eight 3-pointers in a state quarterfinal win over Churchland last Friday. When he was face-guarded the entire game against Lake Taylor in the semifinals on Tuesday, teammates Xavien and Jarett Hunter stepped up to combine for 41 points in a 74–67 victory.
But the Lions had no offensive answers against the Eagles (27–2). Shelton scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds but shot just 7 of 23 from the floor. The Hunter cousins combined to shoot 7 of 33. The Lions shot 27 percent as a team as they finished 30 points below their season scoring average.
Robert Shelton credited the Eagles’ defense and the same over-eagerness the Lions started out with against Lake Taylor, when they fell behind by 16 points Tuesday. They weren’t able to overcome the nerves this time around.
“I think we all played hard and to the best of our ability,” Chris Shelton said. “We were taught that in practice and that’s where it all starts. I don’t regret anything. We didn’t leave anything [on the floor].”
Instead of lamenting what could’ve been, Robert and Chris Shelton focused on the journey and looked ahead to the future of Louisa basketball.
Chris Shelton said it was a dream of this group since middle school to reach the state championship game. In addition to Chris Shelton, starting center Mark Carter and sixth man Shylek Washington will graduate this spring.
“All those guys are great people and they helped out a lot,” Jarett Hunter said. “Mark was grinding every day. Chris can shoot and he played defense well. Shylek runs. Even the [seniors] that don’t play contribute in some way.”
The Lions return three starters next year, including both Hunters and junior forward Isaac Haywood. Robert Shelton said he hopes the Lions are able to build on this breakthrough season that included Jefferson District and Region 4B titles and establish a program that consistently competes for championships.
“This group right here, they accomplished a lot,” he said. “It’s been over 20 years since we’ve been in this situation. I couldn’t tell the last time we even won a regional championship … So like I told the guys, hold your head up. This is definitely a learning experience. Sometimes things don’t go your way. We’ve just got to keep working as a program and keep getting better.”