By Jeff Stapleton
In the team huddle before the 4th quarter began Friday afternoon, The Carmel School Boys Basketball coach Toby Campbell told his team that they were going to win, even though they were down 58-46. After the final buzzer sounded, the Wildcats outlasted Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School of Virginia Beach 69-67 in a thrilling final home game of the season. The defense was ratcheted up in the final quarter and sophomore Kenari Jones added the heroics to lift the Wildcats to victory.
“I told the team (going into the 4th quarter) that it’s not what we’re doing on offense, it’s what we’re not doing on defense,” Campbell said. “Everything we do to win this game, and you’re going to win, will start on how you play defense and hold them to shots they don’t want to take.” The Wildcats responded to that message and started the quarter on an 11-0 run to shave the Crusader lead to 1.
There is a reason that Coach Campbell knew how the game was going to play out. “My father (assistant coach Monte Campbell) and I scouted them and we knew that they are very good shooters, big and athletic. But we also noticed that lately in the 4th quarter, they’d get tired and miss shots.” Up until the 4th quarter, the Crusaders were getting easy transition baskets. After an early lead by the Wildcats in the 1st quarter, the Crusaders took the lead and led for most of the game.
In the 4th quarter alone, The Carmel School outscored Bishop Sullivan 23-9 and Kenari Jones was the big contributor in the quarter as well as the entire game. With the Wildcats down 67-65 with less than 30 seconds to go after 1 of 2 free throws were made by Bishop Sullivan the ball came in to Jones and, with a defender providing pressure, sunk a three pointer with 15 seconds left to give the Wildcats their first lead since midway through the first quarter.
“I just saw the time going down and I felt like I had to step up and make the shot,” Jones said. “We needed it and it was clutch time and I had to come through.” Jones ended up with 35 points 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Tanner Hatchett added 17 points and Josh Campbell chipped in with 11 points.
Though only a sophomore, Jones has been the leader all year for the Wildcats. Coach Campbell was impressed watching from the sidelines. “He’s the best player on our team. He’s a playmaker and he makes everybody else better. He has really stepped in when we lost some games recently and he was frustrated and the whole team was frustrated. Kenari stepped in and led the rest of the guys and that’s what we were missing a little bit throughout the year.”
Now the Wildcats go into uncharted territory. This is the first time that a Boys Basketball team from The Carmel School has participated in the State VISAA (Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association) tournament. The Wildcats will travel to Hampton to play Hampton Christian. The game was played Tuesday and was not completed in time for the paper’s deadline.
The Wildcats finish the regular season 12-8 and head to post-season play with a young team that’s made a lot of progress this year. “We grew up a lot. We’re a really young team. We don’t have any seniors and we don’t have a lot of players,” Campbell said. “We started the season with 5 and we’ve ended up with 7. Four of those players never sub out. We grew up tonight. This was a really good win for us.”