PORTSMOUTH—After Louisa senior Chris Shelton lit up Lake Taylor’s Region 4A counterpart Churchland for 31 points in the Class 4 state quarterfinals last Friday, the Titans came out determined to slow the Division-I prospect.
But the Lions are more than a one-man operation.
They have a pair of junior guards who are cousins and equally effective at breaking down opposing defenses.
With the Titans face-guarding Shelton from tip-off, Xavien and Jarett Hunter combined for 41 points as the Lions overcame a 16-point third-quarter deficit to defeat Lake Taylor—the defending state champion—74-67 in the state semifinals Tuesday night at Churchland High.
The Lions (26-4) will face George Washington-Danville for the Class 4 championship Thursday at 8 p.m. at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.
“It’s big time,” Xavien Hunter said. “We’re making history. We’ve got to keep pulling through and get this championship.”
The Lions will play for a state title for the first time since the 1994 team fell short in its bid.
The star of that squad was current head coach Robert Shelton. His young Lions were eagerly anticipating a return trip and, admittedly, came out a little too hyped up.
The result was a 39-27 halftime deficit. The Lions trailed 47-31 in the third quarter before they closed the frame on an 18-5 spurt.
Louisa trailed just 52-49 entering the fourth quarter and appeared poised to overcome the Titans and star guard Zyrail Mitchell (game-high 32 points).
“As a coach you never want to be down, but this group has been down a lot this year,” Robert Shelton said. “There have been times in the first half we fell behind by 10-plus points and then we came back. They keep fighting. They always believe. We felt if we kept playing defense these guys won’t make the same shots.”
Mitchell and backcourt mate Dai’Veontay Tyler each slowed down in the second half. Tyler scored 10 first-half points but was held to only a late 3-pointer in the second 16 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Lions were rolling. Xavien Hunter (24 points) and Jarrett Hunter (17) scored Louisa’s first 12 points of the fourth quarter.
“We knew we had to go on offense and score because they had a lot of guys that can score from deep and those 3s add up,” Jarett Hunter said.
Shelton contributed 16 points and Isaac Haywood added 12, including back-to-back baskets in the fourth quarter to stretch the Lions’ lead to 66-59 with three minutes remaining. The Titans were attempting to force the ball inside to 6-foot-6 sophomore center Kyreses Mullen in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t working.
“They were trying to bully us and we had to be aggressive,” Xavien Hunter said. “We just played our game and we got open shots.”
The Lions withstood 10 3-pointers by the Titans. They now turn their attention to Thursday.
GW-Danville knocked off Jefferson Forest 53-38 in the other semifinal on Tuesday. The Lions are feeling good about themselves after traveling to the Tidewater region and silencing the Titans’ large contingent of fans.
Robert Shelton drew inspiration from Lake Taylor who traveled to Richmond to knock off Huguenot in the state semifinals last season.
“I’m just happy for them. I’m proud of them,” Robert Shelton said of his players. “They came a long way but we’ve still got one more to go. Their motto is: ‘Let’s be greedy. Why not one more?’ ”
Louisa (26-4): Jarett Hunter 17, Chris Shelton 16, Xavien Hunter 24, Isaac Haywood 12, Mark Carter 5, Shylek Washington 0. Totals 27 12-21 74.
Lake Taylor (13-18): Malik Newton 0, Dai’Veontay Tyler 13, Zyrain Mitchell 32, Daleon Gibson 9, Dajon Dawson 6, Corithean Sessoms 0, Kyreses Mullen 7. Totals 24 9-15 67.
3-pointers: Louisa 8 (Shelton 3, X. Hunter 3, J. Hunter 2). Lake Taylor 10 (Mitchell 4, Tyler 3, Dawson 2, Gibson).