In a year of unorthodox scenarios, the events surrounding Thursday’s Class 4 Northwestern District tournament semifinal matchup between the Culpeper and Fauquier boys basketball teams seemed par for the course.
The Blue Devils and Falcons were supposed to play each other in what would have been the regular-season finale for both squads last Friday, but a positive COVID-19 test result within Fauquier’s program necessitated that game be canceled.
With the Falcons’ entire varsity roster forced into a 14-day quarantine per public safety guidelines, they had a decision to make: either shut down their 2020-21 campaign for good or field a completely different team for Thursday’s contest and hope for the best.
Fauquier went with option No. 2, dressing nine players for the matchup—all from its junior varsity squad. The results were nothing if not predictable, as Culpeper overwhelmed the visiting Falcons in a 70-45 rout.
The victory accomplished two things for the second-seeded Blue Devils (5-3). First and foremost, it punched their ticket to Saturday’s 2 p.m. district championship game at No. 1 seed Handley (7-0), a 64-50 winner over fourth-seeded Kettle Run Thursday night. And last but not least, it qualified them for next week’s Region 4C tournament.
“This kind of game can be very difficult to coach,” Culpeper head coach James Thompson said. “On paper, you know you should have the advantage over a team in the situation [Fauquier] was in, but at the same time, your guys still have to go out and execute.”
The Blue Devils didn’t have much difficulty executing against the No. 3 seed Falcons (5-3) in the third quarter, when they used a 17-4 run to blow things wide open.
Senior guard Chase Smith tallied eight of his 18 points during Culpeper’s pivotal spurt, which turned a 32-21 halftime lead into a 49-25 advantage midway through the period.
Another senior, JoJo Crenshaw, assisted on three of Smith’s four baskets during the run, which was a common occurrence throughout the night. The 6-foot-5 swingman finished with a double-double, dishing out 11 assists to go along with the 12 rebounds he pulled down.
“JoJo and Chase are two of our glue guys,” Thompson said. “They’ve been doing a little bit of everything for us all year. If we need points, they can score. If we need rebounds and unselfish play, they provide that as well.”
Nathan Amos took over from there. The sophomore point guard sank a 3-pointer to buoy the Blue Devils to a 56-31 edge at the end of the stanza, then added five more points in the final frame as their lead reached as much as 30 on two separate occasions.
Amos also contributed to Culpeper’s fast start in the first quarter, registering eight of his game-high 19 points as the Blue Devils raced to an 18-9 advantage.
“He’s such a dangerous shooter, but he’s also learning to do the other things it takes to win,” Thompson said of Amos, who also collected six rebounds on the evening.
Fauquier did manage to stay within striking distance for much of the first half, which was due in large part to the scrappy play of Kevin Chienku. The junior guard scored nine of his team-high 11 points before intermission, with six of them coming on stickbacks off offensive rebounds he corralled.
Culpeper now turns its attention to Handley, which handed the Blue Devils their only district loss in a 90-49 shellacking in Winchester on Jan. 13. However, Culpeper was coming off a three-plus-week layoff and was without players who had prior commitments that didn’t allow them to play that day.
“We were in a really bad position that first time,” Thompson said. “Hopefully we can be much more competitive this time around. [Handley] has a really good team.”
Fauquier (5-3): Kevin Chienku 11, Rey Ruiz 5, Damen Tapscott 0, Marshall Graham 4, Damari Williams 0, Owen Winebarger 5, Zachary Potucek 10, Ethan Brown 7, Rashad Russell 3. Totals: 17 8-13 45.
Culpeper (5-3): Jaiden Penn 4, Nathan Amos 19, Lucas Rooney 0, DeAlonte Moore 0, JoJo Crenshaw 7, Justin Corbin 2, Tyler Simmons 0, Malachi Terrell 0, Chase Smith 18, Collin McClanahan 0, Quentin Butler 11, Zach Eckard 9. Totals: 30 6-11 70.
3-pointers: Fauquier 3 (Ruiz, Winebarger, Russell). Culpeper 4 (Amos 3, Eckard).
FAUQUIER 41, CULPEPER 35
The top-seeded Falcons advanced to Saturday’s Northwestern District title game with a victory over the fourth-seeded Blue Devils on Thursday night.
Skyler Furr paced Fauquier (9-0) with a game-high 18 points, while Makayla Foddrell added 14.
Fauquier will host No. 2 seed Kettle Run for the district championship either Friday or Saturday. The Cougars dispatched third-seeded Handley 37-28 in Thursday’s other semifinal clash.
Culpeper concludes its season at 3-7.