Prior to last season, the Caroline boys basketball team hadn’t won a district championship since 2004.
Last season’s team went 20–4, taking home both the Battlefield District regular season and tournament crowns before a heartbreaking regional quarterfinal loss to district rival Eastern View ended their season.
On Monday night, the Cavaliers proved that they’re no one-hit wonder, earning a share of the district regular season championship for a second consecutive year with a 83–74 victory over Eastern View.
Caroline (15–5 overall, 9–3) finishes the regular season tied with both James Monroe (12–10, 9–3) and Courtland (14–8, 9–3) atop the standings.
“Winning the district is big for us,” Caroline coach Antoine Johnson said. “We are trying to bring the winning tradition back to Caroline, so this is good for both the guys and our school.”
The Cavaliers may not have found themselves in such a position were it not for the performance of Mykai Smith.
Smith, who entered Monday night averaging more than 26 points per game, poured in a career-high 43 against the Cyclones. The senior guard, the only returning starter from last season’s team, scored 14 of those in the fourth quarter to help Caroline stave off Eastern View’s comeback bid.
Smith’s 43 points set a new single-game high for the Fredericksburg area this season, topping a 42-point performance by North Stafford’s Javon Swinton on Dec. 28.
“Mykai was phenomenal tonight,” Johnson said. “He has been phenomenal for us all season, and he stepped up every time we needed him tonight.”
Caroline led 40–27 at halftime, and extended its advantage to 49–31 midway through the third quarter. Smith made three of his game-high five 3-pointers in the period, and it looked as though the visiting Cavaliers were on their way to an easy win.
Eastern View (10–11, 7–5) climbed back into the game, however, on the shoulders of Alex Spangler and Blake Leake.
Spangler, who sat out for much of the first half due to foul trouble, gave Caroline fits with his quickness and ability to get to the basket. The junior guard scored eight points on a variety of layups to spark a 15–2 run that cut the score to 51–46 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Leake tallied 11 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Cyclones within striking distance. His three-point play with five minutes left closed the deficit to 61-58.
Eastern View pulled within three one more time, on a Zion Clark 3-pointer with 2:48 remaining. But with Smith (6-of-7) and Kaylen Taylor (6-of-6) converting at the free throw line on the other end, the Cyclones could draw no closer.
“Smith really hit some big shots for [Caroline],” Eastern View coach Patrick Thornhill said. “He was the key. Plus, we fell behind by 18 points. You just can’t do that against a good team like Caroline.”
Taylor finished with 17 points for Caroline to complement Smith’s outing. Leake led Eastern View with 21 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while Spangler and Clark chipped in 12 points each.
In tomorrow’s Battlefield District semifinals, Eastern View will play James Monroe at 5:30 p.m., while Caroline and Courtland will meet in the nightcap at approximately 7:15. The games will be held at James Monroe, as the Yellow Jackets own a tiebreaker over both Caroline and Courtland and have earned the top seed as a result.
Smith said that, while he’s happy to have a share of the district regular season crown, the Cavaliers are ultimately focused on the district tournament and upcoming Region 4B tournament.
“It feels good to win the district, but it’s tournament time now,” he said. “Every game is big from here on out, starting with Courtland tomorrow night.”
Caroline (15–5. 9–3): Mykai Smith 43, Jaylen Taylor 6, Christian Walker 2, Camron Haskins 0, Kaylen Taylor 17, Xavier Campbell 1, Tre Terrell 2, Jay Childs 5, Koby Metz 7. Totals 22 32–42 83.
Eastern View (10–11, 8–4): Zion Clark 12, Blake Leake 21, Alex Spangler 12, Keyshawn Butler 4, Dylan Galenski 6, Ron Ward 4, Chance Graves 2, Meme Melvin 2, Sebastian Pullin 5, Donovan Noakes 4, Quennell Tyree 2. Totals 31 5–12 74.
3-pointers: Caroline 7 (Smith 5, K. Taylor, Metz). Eastern View 7 (Clark 3, Leake 3, Pullin).