[cleeng_content id=”668614364″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]CHARLES TOWN – For three months, Washington ran the gauntlet wearing a bulls-eye on their backs while facing the area’s best competition, including two games apiece against each of the past two Class AAA state champions.
But the Patriots responded at each turn, never wavering from their position as preseason No. 1 and largely cruising to an unblemished 21-0 regular season record, the best in program history.
On occasion, Washington faced stiff competition, including a pair of close games against conference rival Hedgesville, winner of the 2012 state championship. But mostly, the Patriots rolled to one lopsided victory after another, including consecutive wins against conference rival Martinsburg, which won the state title last season.
Washington is scheduled to host the winner of the first-round sectional game between Musselman and Jefferson in Charles Town. The winner advances to the sectional finals set for later this week.
“We wanted to finish undefeated to let people know that we’re No. 1 for a reason,” said senior guard Dominique Newman. “It’s not just all hype.”
Newman, a McDonald’s All-American nominee whose precise outside shooting is equaled by his hustle on defense, led the Patriots in scoring this season with 20.7 points per game, including a season-high 31 on Jan. 11 against Sherando. But by no means is Newman alone in the category of talented game-changes gracing a deep Washington lineup.
Senior center Kendell Smith, a McDonald’s All-American finalist himself at least in part by virtue of his tenacity on the boards and a penchant for scoring points, returned to the starting lineup last month after missing five games with an ankle injury. Smith closed out the regular season playing some of his best basketball to date, scoring a team-high 24 points Feb. 11 against Musselman and adding 26 points against county-rival Jefferson 10 days later.
Senior guard Maleke Jones, senior forward Jerome Jones and senior forward Josh Dudley each bring their own tangible attributes to the Patriots’ starting lineup, and all three have shown the ability to take over a game by scoring at least 22 points themselves during an outing this season.
“I think more than anything, something they wanted to do was to have a great season,” said Washington coach Don Bullett. “I don’t know if at the beginning of the season we talked about winning them all. But you look at this team, the upperclassmen we have showed great leadership. The kids stayed focused. They did everything we asked them to do to be successful.”
Washington opened the season Dec. 12 with a three-point victory at Oakdale (Maryland), but the Patriots didn’t find themselves in another barnburner until after they began conference play in January.
On Jan. 17 at Hedgesville, Washington traded blows with the Eagles and held a 39-37 advantage at halftime. But Newman hit a few clutch baskets in the second half and Smith used his first game back from injury to reassert himself by scoring nine points and blocking key shots en route to a 77-62 victory.
On Feb. 18 in Charles Town, Hedgesville again played Washington close before the Patriots eked out a 49-44 victory.
Martinsburg and Musselman also both played Washington better the second time around, though neither came within closer than 15 points.
“Teams obviously scouted us,” Newman said. “They looked at what we did and what they could try to do to stop us. Some of them were successful, but we just had to adjust to what they were doing. We just had to play our game and try a little harder.
“Hedgesville, they slowed us down,” Newman added. “They kept the score under 50. That was amazing. But we overcame that.”
In all, Washington outscored its opponents by an average of 33 points, scoring nearly 88 points a game while allowing 55. The differential between the Patriots and their opponents in scoring was slightly smaller when considering only their 10 conference games, which saw Washington top their fellow league competition by an average of about 30 points.
“A lot of the time when you get a lopsided win your kids aren’t as focused the second time because they’ve already beat them by 25 or 30 points,” Bullett said. “But I didn’t see that this year with our kids. Our kids were focused even the second time we played teams. That was a good thing.
“We knew going into the season, with what we had coming back, that there would be some lopsided scores,” Bullett added. “It gave us a chance for our bench to be able to grow because we would have some leads and we’d be able to use a lot of kids.”