At one point Monday night, Tyson Gage simply had to smile.
His team was clicking on all cylinders. It was sharing the ball, outrebounding opponents and finding easy buckets. Yes, Gage could get used to this.
“It’s always fun when you’re out there winning,” the 6-foot-4 Jefferson Forest junior point guard said.
Gage didn’t lead the way in the scoring column in JF’s dominating 74-47 victory at Heritage. But he did just about everything else to spoil the Pioneers’ Senior Night in a game that amounted to the regular-season finale for both Seminole District teams.
Gage finished with nine rebounds, eight assists and eight points. In a two-minute stretch at the start of the fourth quarter, with the game already in hand, the junior assisted on four straight JF buckets and then drove down the right baseline, spun, was fouled and hit the turnaround jumper that put his team up by 30.
“It was a really good team effort,” Gage said. “Probably our best team effort [this season].”
Forest (17-5, 11-3 Seminole) got out to a 22-12 lead after the opening eight minutes and led 39-22 at halftime. It took its largest lead over the Pioneers (9-11, 9-5 Seminole) with 5:03 remaining when Gage completed an old-fashioned three-point play with a free throw for a 31-point spread.
The Cavs previously earned an eight-point win over HHS on Jan. 31, a game in which it quickly became apparent that they presented matchup problems for Heritage, especially in the paint, where JF has a serious height advantage. In a district that doesn’t feature much height in 2019-2020, JF stands apart.
The Cavaliers won that battle again Monday. Six-foot-8 junior Joseph Peters led the way with 22 points. His backup in the post, 6-4 senior John Isenhour, added eight points. And Gage, tall for a point guard, showed off his skills, often slicing into the lane and dishing to opponents.
He wasn’t the only guard to perform well. Senior Adam Hogsed scored 14 points and had four assists, while classmate Caleb Eckart added eight points.
JF assisted on 18 of its 33 baskets.
“Definitely the best ball movement we’ve had all season,” Gage said.
Peters, who started the third quarter by outscoring Heritage 8-0 all by himself, added six rebounds.
“We’ve been getting so close as a team recently and throughout the year,” Peters said. “And tonight, you can’t guard the whole team. Everybody’s scoring, everybody’s excited. We’re all playing good. The guards got the ball into the bigs all night long.”
Senior Deshad Gillis led Heritage with 13 points, knocking down three of his team’s eight 3-pointers. The Pioneers’ leading scorer this season, guard/forward Jacobi Lambert, finished with seven points. He entered averaging better than 16 points per game.
“If you can’t turn [JF] over, they’re gonna find a way to get it in to the big guy [Peters],” HHS coach Les Camm said. “And if we did double him, he did a really good job of passing out to open shooters and they were knocking them down; and if they weren’t knocking them down, they were there to get the offensive rebounds. … It was tough. And then couple that with us not shooting very well, it’s a catch-22. And it can balloon.”
Both teams are headed into a slimmed down version of the Seminole District Tournament, which begins Friday. Only the district’s top four teams — Liberty Christian, Jefferson Forest, E.C. Glass and Heritage — will play in that tourney. If Liberty Christian wins its regular-season finale at Liberty tonight, the Bulldogs will be the tourney’s No. 1 seed and play Heritage, the bottom seed. If LCA loses tonight, it would be 11-3 in the district along with both JF and E.C. Glass.
Heritage has lost four straight games and, no matter the outcome of the district tourney, most likely will be on the road to begin postseason play in Region 3C.
“Just play at a high level consistently,” Camm said about what his Pioneers need to do moving forward. “If you look at last week, we had two losses, but we felt like we competed very well against Glass and against LCA. … We have to be ready to play hard and smart and together for 32 minutes to be able to get a win in the region.”
JF will be the No. 2 seed for play in Region 4D, first-year coach Jeff Monroe said.
“The guys, they just played well tonight,” Monroe added. “It’s a group who, only three of them even played last year [in JF’s run to the Class 4 state semifinals]. All the rest of them played JV or didn’t even play. So it’s been a great effort by our guys.”