The L.C. Bird boys’ basketball team couldn’t have picked a better time to start playing like a well-oiled machine.
It’s not like it has played any clunkers this season, but currently the team from Chesterfield County seems to be playing at another level.
The Skyhawks, fresh off their impressive 62-50 win over Varina in the semifinal, broke to a 39-16 halftime lead and then held off a third-quarter run by Bethel for the 75-63 win in the 5A South Region final Saturday at Hermitage High School.
The team from Chesterfield County is riding a 10-game winning streak into the state playoffs.
The game was a rematch of a Dec. 30, 2016 game played at the Hampton Coliseum, where L. C. Bird prevailed 48-38 in a low-scoring affair. The Bruins, who defeated the Skyhawks last year in the Virginia Prep Classic, have lost only five games this season; two were to the Skyhawks, and both by double-digits.
“Bethel is a very good, talented team,” L.C. Bird coach Troy Manns said. “We were very fortunate tonight to hit some shots and get some stops. We played hard and things worked out for us.”
Senior Mario Haskett, a Harvard recruit, paced L.C. Bird with a game-high 20 points, including three 3-pointers, and 14 points in the first half. He said it was important to come out in the regional championship game with some fire, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“Basically every game is another game,” Haskett said. “However, the next game is the most important game. [Our] goal is to win the last game of the season.
“When we played the first game of the season we felt like it was our last year, we have to go out with a bang,” Haskett added.
“This year, we have more as a team. Whoever is hot, that’s who we go to. On defense, you have to play with energy and we try to go hard every time down the floor.
“If I’m playing good defense, my offense will get going. Once I get going on defense, I’m going pretty good. First thing would bring up is my defense, when you get here, if you come here, you’re going on the best player every night.”
Jalen Dillard, who scored the majority of his points in the second half, finished with 16 points, including three 3-pointers. Tyrek Williams, who worked hard in the paint, finished with 14 points. Cam Henry added 13 points, and Pinky Wiley chipped in with 11 points.
The Skyhawks knocked down 10 3-pointers in the game and were 13-for-20 from the free-throw line, most of those coming in the late stages of the game.
Bethel attempted to make up some ground in the second half. The Bruins went on a 12-0 run in the third quarter, but never could get the deficit under 11 points. In, fact, Bethel outscored L.C. Bird 22-12 in the quarter, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Bethel placed four players in double figures. Jeremiah Owusu, a Notre Dame football signee, led Bethel with 13 points. Miles Barrett netted 12 points, while Cam Bacote, who will play at Hampton got 10 points, and Dajour Dickens, who will play at Providence, also had 10 points. Bacote, a 6-3 guard who went over the 1,000-point mark earlier this year, was named the PenSouth Conference Player of the Year.
With the win, L.C. Bird improved to 24-1 while Bethel fell to 22-5. The Skyhawks, the South No. 1 seed whose only loss was to Landstown on Jan. 30, will now play the North No. 4 Potomac Falls in the VHSL 5A quarterfinals. The game is scheduled for Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Hampton University Convocation Center. Bethel, the South No. 2 seed, will face North No. 3 Wakefield.
The core group of L.C. Bird players Haskett, Henry, Webster and Wiley are focused on the state title. The Skyhawks made it to the 5A State Championship game last March before falling to Potomac.