Stonewall stays on its roll

MANASSAS — Proudly planning for Stonewall Jackson’s first regional boys basketball game since 1970, coach Marcus Lawrence scouted Culpeper last Saturday. He saw a team with tons of speed and quickness, yet that combination failed to derail the Raiders on Monday night.

Senior point guard Tyc Snow, a menacing front line and an improved rotation of guards kept up with the Blue Devils just fine in a 68-61 win at Stonewall. Wednesday night, the Raiders (12-12) will be home again as they face Gar-Field in one of two all-Prince William County semifinals in the Group AAA, Northwest Region tournament.

To advance past Culpeper (15-6), the Cedar Run District tournament champions led 41-37 after a frenetic first 16 minutes. The pace slowed somewhat and the Raiders went cold at the foul line (missing six straight in the final period after starting 10 for 10). But Stonewall senior forward Corey Wheeler helped quell Culpeper’s comeback effort, as he hauled in nine of his game-high 15 rebounds in the second half. Wheeler also scored 19 points and handed out a team-best five assists.

“Corey’s very key to this ball club,” said Snow, who scored a game-high 24 points on the day in which he was named Cedar Run player of the year. “Without his rebounds, we wouldn’t be winning any of these games. In practice, he’s a little laid-back but in games he’s a serious type.”

At .500 after postseason wins with their season on the line against Potomac, Osbourn Park and Culpeper, the Raiders stand one win away from the state playoffs. The winners of Wednesday’s Stonewall/Gar-Field and Potomac/Woodbridge games will play in Thursday’s regional final and then meet Richmond-area schools in Saturday’s state quarterfinals.

Monday night, Stonewall’s starting frontcourt outscored Culpeper’s, 35-15. Senior forward/center Onyie Onunaku had eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks and junior forward Chris Mpembele also scored eight. At the two-guard spot, junior Adam Woodward assisted on Onunaku’s game-sealing layup with 39 seconds left and scored five points, while senior Marcus Franklin played valuable defense and converted on a four-point play in the second quarter.

“Culpeper’s an extremely quick team, so we knew we had our hands full,” Lawrence said. “But we did a good job maintaining our intensity.”

As for Culpeper, the Blue Devils went undefeated in Commonwealth District regular-season play before falling at home to Albemarle in the district tournament final. A large contingent of Culpeper followers made the trip to Stonewall on Monday night.

Junior guard Rodney Elliot led the Devils with 20 points, but his team could do no more than tie the game after trailing 53-46 through three quarters. After Elliott made two free throws to even the score at 59, Snow made a pair of free throws and then scored on a layup off an Onunaku assist.

“I thought [Stonewall] played well, and every time we got close we’d commit a foul,” Culpeper coach Billy Thornhill said. “Marcus’ team made the plays they had to make. Even with their record, I told the kids in this tournament everyone you play is good. Obviously, they’re playing good ball and they’ve played a lot of tough teams.”

With four semifinal teams who were in the same Cardinal District until 2001-02, the competition Wednesday and Thursday will be even more intense and more familiar than the regular season and the district tournaments. Stonewall beat Gar-Field, 58-57, at home on Jan. 7, but lost in Dale City, 80-60, on Feb. 4.

Gar-Field coach Andy Gray “knows what I do and I know what he does,” Lawrence said. “The best team that night’s going to win. There’s no tricking each other at this time of year.”