Oak Hill (Va.) moves on to semifinals at DICK'S Nationals despite fighting off rust

Oak Hill (Va.) moves on to semifinals at DICK'S Nationals despite fighting off rust

Geico High School Nationals

Oak Hill (Va.) moves on to semifinals at DICK'S Nationals despite fighting off rust

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Oak Hill's Devontae Shuler #20 shoots a free throw against Mater Dei during a high school basketball game in the Hoophall Classic at Springfield College on Monday, January 18, 2016 in Springfield, MA. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Oak Hill’s Devontae Shuler (Photo: Gregory Payan, Associated Press)

MIDDLE VILLAGE, N.Y. — Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) went nearly three weeks without practice before finally getting into the gym for a double session Monday in advance of the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School Nationals, and the Warriors felt the effects Thursday in a quarterfinal against Wasatch Academy (Mt. Pleasant, Utah).

Oak Hill allowed an 11-0 run to start the game and then a 9-0 run in the second half, but quickly — and explosively — found its groove after both rallies for an 81-64 victory at Christ The King.

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The Warriors (43-1) will await the winner of Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) in Friday’s semifinal at Christ The King. The championship game will be held Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Oak Hill coach Steve Smith said it was “not ideal,” timewise because the boarding school had shut down for spring break, but he still managed to squeeze in four practices before the Nationals.

Smith could have brought the team back before Easter, but elected to have the players spend the holiday with their families. After the team shot 3-for-16 in the first quarter, it was clear Oak Hill was shaking off some rust.

“I’m sure that’s a lot of it,” Smith said. “We hadn’t played in close to a month and we hadn’t practiced in 17 days, so I wouldn’t expect us to look sharp sharp, but I would hope we start a little better (Friday) than we did (Thursday).”

Oak Hill has become a tournament regular, with four second-place finishes in the last eight years to its credit, while Wasatch was making its first appearance in the prestigious event.

Tigers coach Curtis Condie stressed toughness was the key against Oak Hill.

“It just wasn’t our day today,” Condie said after the loss. “We needed to be the toughest team on defense, the toughest team in rebounding, and then the toughest team holding onto the ball. But when you give up 15 offensive rebounds, you’re not going to win many games.”

The loss capped an emotional year for Wasatch (29-4), which lost its head coach Geno Morgan in July after he unexpectedly died in his sleep at the age of 49.

“This has been a great year for these guys. It’s been a tough year,” Condie said, putting his arm around Tigers junior Jeff Baradziej. “They lost their coach (in July), and they were very tight-knit guys.”

Baradziej interjected to point out that Morgan would’ve turned 50 on Thursday.

Wasatch showed flashes of dominance, but ultimately could not outlast the height and depth of Oak Hill. Five Warriors players scored in double figures, including Devontae Shuler, who hit for 13 off the bench.

Virginia Tech-bound 6-9 center Khadim Sy recorded the only double-double of the game with 13 points and 10 rebounds. “I’m so happy because my teammates are always pushing me,” said Sy. “If I’m stuck, they’re trying to give me the ball all the time because they trust me on the end to take the ball inside and do what I’ve got to do to help the score to go up.”

Junior Lindell Wiggington said the team’s struggles to open the first and third quarters were reminders that it can’t let up at any point in the game. “We’ve got to have effort every time we step on the court,” said Wiggington, who finished with a game-high 17 points.

Smith joked that, as much depth as the Warriors currently have, they were even deeper in the fall. Oak Hill lost seniors Harry Giles — a Duke signee and the nation’s top recruit — and Penn State-bound Joe Hampton for the season with ACL tears.

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