Seneca Valley Defeats Tuscarora 61-59 and Screams into State Semi-Finals
As the Seneca Valley fans rushed the court after Friday night’s thrilling 61-59 3A West Region Championship victory, senior Deonte Nelson was at the scorer’s table, resting his head on his arm, bend over in quiet thought as the Seneca Valley world celebrated behind him. Nelson could have been praying or giving thanks for this wonderful moment; the huge high for a kid whose high school basketball career began from the deepest of lows.
As Seneca celebrated, maybe the senior guard was thinking about his first two seasons as a Screaming Eagle. Two season in which the program has just one win. As Nelson’s sophomore basketball season came to a close, he experienced victory just once, a 91-89 victory over Northwood. As a young player, on a 1-41 team, perhaps the younger Nelson could not imagine a scenario where he would be a part of one of the final four teams playing for a Maryland State Championship. Perhaps as a senior, Nelson needed to get in touch with that sophomore inside him from two years ago, and let him it was all worth it.
Friday night’s victory didn’t erase those early seasons, but it certainly makes those memories easier to hold on too.
“These kids deserve it. Not just the players but our student body,” said Seneca Valley Athletic Director Jesse Irvin after Friday’s victory. “If you look at where this program was just two years ago. Some of these kids are now seniors that had to go through the 40 game losing streak. Who would have thought during those seasons that they would have experienced this. But, what I love about this team is they are not satisfied with this, they are ready to move and win it all.”
Friday night’s victory, which came in front of a raucous sold-out crowd, did not come easy. While the Eagles did start strong by jumping out to an early lead, it was clear from the first basket that Seneca was going to play a different type of game.
The first basket was scored by sophomore Triston Price on free throws just seconds into the game. It would be shots from the free-throw line that would be the difference, and Price’s steady hand at the line would prove an inspiration. He would hit the first two free throws in the first quarter, and he would sink five more late in the fourth quarter to keep the Eagles in the lead.
With 5:26 remaining in the second quarter, Seneca Valley enjoyed a 12 point lead over Tuscarora, but that lead would evaporate as the 20-4 Titans tightened their defense. They got four huge three-point shots from senior Rhashad Johnson, two in the second and two in the third to close the gap. Johnson would finish with 18 points to lead the Titans.
The Eagles signature all year has been good defense leading to offensive scoring. “All season our defense has led to our offense. When our offense is stalling a bit, we try to turn up the defensive pressure and make them see a different look,” said Seneca’s Head Coach Brian Humphrey. In the fourth quarter, the Eagles switched to a 1-3-1 zone, and it seemed to throw off the Titan’s offensive rhythm. “They were hitting deep jumpers. They did a good job of adjusting. They have some big long athletes that were excellent who are excellent at shot blocking and keeping us out of the paint. In the 1-3-1 zone, we tried to make sure that we had one person that always came out to guard [Johnson], but he wanted it just as bad as we did and he was making big plays.”
Tuscarora would tie the game at 37 with 3:39 remaining in the third on a layup by junior Jaylen Washington. The teams would trade buckets until Johnson hit is fourth three-ball to give the Titans the lead 41-43 with 1:40 in the third.
Seneca’s Deonte Nelson would tie the game with a jumper with 35.9 left in the third to send the game in the final period all even at 43.
One minute and four seconds into the fourth period, Tuscarora’s senior Isaiah Tillman would get fouled on a layup. He would make both foul shots to give the Titans their first lead of the game with 6:56 remaining. The lead would change hands five more times in the last period.