Washington eying state tournament berth
CHARLES TOWN – No one has had a better seat than Don Bullett to watch undefeated Washington cruise to its first sectional boys basketball championship in school history.
So perhaps it should mean a little more when the Patriots’ head coach includes himself among an audience enthralled by the intricacies of Washington’s 23-0 record and stranglehold over the top ranking in the state in Class AAA.
Last Friday, Dominique Newman scored 24 points and Jerome Jones added 17 as Washington defeated Hedgesville, 76-45, in Charles Town, clinching the sectional title and earning home court advantage in the regional finals scheduled for Tuesday, March 11. The Patriots were slated to face Elkins after press time Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the state tournament in Charleston.
The victory over Hedgesville was the third time Washington had defeated the Eagles this season, and the decisive nature of the 31-point contest saw the Patriots dominate the only conference team that had offered up a significant challenge this season.
“It’s special,” Bullett said. “Somebody told me earlier this year, ‘You know what coach? Sit back and enjoy the moment. This kind of a team doesn’t come along very often.’ As a coaching staff we have.”
Washington ran the gauntlet all season and took everybody’s best shot after being named preseason No. 1 in the state. In all, the Patriots outscored their opponents by an average of 33 points, while scoring roughly 88 points themselves per game.
Senior guard Dominique Newman, a McDonald’s All-American nominee, has led Washington in scoring with roughly 21 points per game. Fellow starters senior center Kendell Smith (himself a McDonald’s All-American nominee), senior forward Jerome Jones, senior forward Josh Dudley and senior guard Maleke Jones have also each stepped up at different times throughout the season, either by leading the Patriots in scoring or providing suffocating defense.
“These kids are fun to watch,” Bullett said. “You can’t go to a basketball game and think these kids aren’t fun to watch because they are. They’re quick. They play good defense. They rebound. They do a lot of great things on the floor. I’m really proud of this group of kids.”
Most expected Washington to be in the driver’s seat this season after the Patriots returned a talented lineup that reached the state semifinals last year. But even the most-devoted supporters might have balked at the notion of an unblemished 21-0 regular season record, which Washington accomplished Feb. 27 with an 89-54 trouncing of visiting Broadfording Christian.
The Patriots have since defeated Jefferson, 86-45, in the sectional semifinals on March 6, and then Hedgesville in the sectional finals the following day.
“This is not the end,” Newman said after Washington’s victory against Hedgesville. “We’re on a mission. We’re just hungry. We want to work hard. When we get to states we’re going to do what we’ve got to do, but we’re not overlooking regionals. We’re going to bring our A-game.”
Assuming Washington defeats Elkins and claims the regional title, the Patriots will undoubtedly be the top seed of the eight teams reaching the state Class AAA tournament in Charleston.
The state tournament is scheduled to open with quarterfinal games Wednesday, March 19. The semifinal round will follow on Friday, March 21, with the championship game set for Saturday, March 22.
Washington’s overwhelming success this season has left many predicting a third-consecutive state title residing in the Eastern Panhandle, following previous championships by fellow sectional programs Hedgesville (2012) and Martinsburg (2013).
“I actually had a chance to coach those guys when they were in seventh grade when I was at Charles Town Middle,” said Jefferson coach Richard Lewis, who faced Washington three times this season. “They are exactly what I thought they were going to be by the time they reached this level. They continue to work hard and stay together. You can see the maturity of them. They’re probably going to win it all. I don’t really see how they can’t, unless they don’t shoot well. That’s pretty much it.”