One of the major goals first-year coach Anthony Mills set for the Colonial Forge boys basketball team this season was to play hard and with energy.
Against Stafford on Friday night, the Eagles came out with that energy in front of an enthusiastic home crowd and never let the visiting Indians get their rhythm in an impressive 70–42 Commonwealth District victory.
It was the sixth win in a row for Mills’ athletic team, which started the season with nine losses in its first 13 games. But the current winning streak, which began with an eight-point win over Stafford last month, has them riding a wave of confidence.
Entering the stretch drive of the season, the Eagles’ 7–2 district mark has them a half-game ahead of the Indians and Massaponax in the loss column. Their push to the top of the district has been a product of their hard work and determination.
“I knew what I was coming into and I knew what I wanted these guys to do,” said Mills, who coached at King George last year. “As a staff, we wanted them to play hard and play defense the way it was meant to be played. It showed tonight.”
From the opening tip, it was evident that Friday night’s game was going to be a test of two wills.
Stafford’s success in winning 17 games this season has been predicated on a patient offense that makes the extra passes and gets good looks at the basket. But against the fast-working Eagles, those good looks were hard to come by.
After an even first quarter, Colonial Forge’s athleticism and quickness dictated the pace of the game and the Eagles built steam. Fueled by an aggressive, pressing defense and solid rebounding, they outscored the Indians 49–20 in the next two periods and won going away.
“Honestly, our hard work in practice was the difference,” said guard Joshua Osakwe, one of four Eagles who scored in double figures. “We practice hard and we work hard on defense. We translated that energy into the game.”
After Stafford trimmed the Eagles’ lead to five points midway through the second quarter, Martin Kawa ignited a late run that gave Forge a 28–18 lead at the half. The junior buried a pair of 3-pointers in the final three minutes and then scored on a spin move in the lane as time expired.
“[Stafford] is a good team,” said Kawa. “When we beat them last time, I think it gave us confidence that we can beat anybody. When we play like we did tonight and attack the boards, not everybody has to score on this team.”
Balance has been a big factor in Colonial Forge’s success lately. The Eagles also got double-figure scoring from four players in Wednesday’s 68–60 victory at Massaponax.
Josh Sarratt led the way in Friday’s win with 13 points. Kawa scored 12 and Osakwe and Elijah Sarratt added 11 apiece.
Stafford got nine points from 6-foot-7 forward Colin Coyne and seven from guard Tishawn Ellis. But the Indians never could get their usually potent offense in gear against the aggressive play of the Eagles.
“We’re normally a very patient team that likes to make five or six passes before we shoot,” said Indians coach Brett Lively. “But they sped us up and we hurried our shots. It played right into their hands. We have to understand that sometimes our best defense is a patient offense.”
Meanwhile, Mills hopes the Eagles continue to play with the energy level they showed against the Indians.
“This was a really good game and a big win for us,” said Mills. “Stafford is a good program and our fans gave us a lot of energy tonight. We just needed to stay focused, and we did. Hopefully, we can keep doing that.”
Both teams are back in action next week as they try to position themselves for good seedings in the upcoming regional playoffs. Stafford entertains Massaponax on Tuesday. Colonial Forge plays host to Riverbend on Wednesday.
Stafford (17-5, 7-3): Tishawn Ellis 9, Dejour Johnson 3, Henry Counsell 3, Donovan Arnason 3, Devin Lardge 3, TJ Carden 2, Jacob Duniver 2, Bruce Dupee 4, Daeron Smith 3, Colin Coyne 9, Caleb Duniver 1. Totals: 12 16-23 42.
Colonial Forge (10-9, 6-2): Joshua Sarratt 13, Martin Kawa 12, Elijah Sarratt 11, Joshua Osakwe 11, LT Woods 9, Antonio McIlwain 5, Josiah Jones 4, Myles Flood 3, Watavien Favors 2, Dominic Williams 0, Nick Ellington 0, Rashaan Reed 0, JoVaughn Monroe 0. Totals: 26 11-16 70.
3-pointers: Stafford 2 (Arnason, Lardge). CF 7 (Kawa 2, E. Sarratt 2, J. Sarratt, McIlwain, Flood).