Coaches in all sports bandy about the term “game-changer.”
But all too frequently, those coaches don’t know the true definition of the term.
Sure, a football team might have a thousand-yard running back, or a baseball team might have a serious power threat. But it takes something out of the ordinary for a player to truly deserve to be called “game-changer.”
Westfield’s Zach Elcano, all 6-feet, 11-inches of him, proved himself worthy of that label Monday night when the Bulldogs imposed their will on Edison in the second half and ran away with the Northern Region title, 62-49.
The scrappy Eagles—led once again by the outstanding inside play of Tyrone Mackall—made a game of it as long as they could, trailing 22-21 at the half and fighting back from a 40-25 deficit to cut it to 45-37 with 4:55 to go.
But Elcano, who only scored 17 points but prevented Edison from getting any rhythm going in their half-court offense, was just too tall for the Eagles to handle. He’s the kind of player that changes the dimensions of the game. Not only is he always open, due to his extreme height advantage, but on defense, he reduces the playable area of the court.
“The way the defense was going,” said Edison coach Terry Henderson, “the team that could make the first run was probably going to win the game.”
And that was Westfield, which broke out for 10 straight points—including back-to-back 3-pointers from the left corner by Quentin Basil—during a two-minute stretch late in the third quarter. The outburst gave the Bulldogs a 15-point lead they never relinquished.
Edison’s smaller, quick guards like LaSalle Mensah and Marcus Brumsey Jr., who shined in the first half of the regional semifinal win over Fairfax on Saturday, were pulling up short on their drives and fading away on floaters, all because of the reach of Elcano.
“They really got us out of our norm,” Henderson said of the Westfield defense. “That was the first time this year we weren’t able to get into what we wanted to do.”
The good news is that the Eagles, who earned a berth in the state tournament as the region runner-up, will not see Elcano again unless they make the March 9 championship game (and Westfield keeps winning, too).
As Henderson—an Edison grad and big man himself—told his team after the game: “If you were going to lose a game, this is the one to lose. Hopefully, we can get on another run,” he said.
The Eagles will travel to Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University to face Petersburg, the Central Region champions, on Friday night at 8:45. The Crimson Wave earned its way into the state tournament with a 76-68 win over Henrico on Monday.
The draw sets up a compelling storyline for Henderson, the second-year Edison coach who was raised in Petersburg and then moved to Alexandria for high school.
“Hopefully we can go down to states and cause some damage,” he said. “I’m from Petersburg, and I know a lot about that team.”
Henderson said he didn’t promise a trip to the state tournament within two years when he accepted the Edison job.
“I [just] wanted to come in and teach these guys the right way,” he said. “Bring back the winning tradition to Edison. Teams were looking at Edison like an automatic win. I was trying to change the culture and get these guys believing they could play.”
One of those players was Mackall, who catapulted the Eagles into the state tournament with his 20-point game on Saturday, and led Edison with 17 points on Monday.
“He’s playing like a man right now,” said Henderson. “Rebounding like a man, scoring down low like a man. Playing above yourself and strong at all times.”
And if the Eagles can regroup from this loss, they might continue to play like men for another couple of weeks.
- Mackall and Matt Murphy were named to the Northern Region tournament first team on Monday night.
- According to Berk Stoy, the Director of Student Activities, it’s the first state tournament berth for Edison since 1970.
- If the Eagles win Friday’s game against Petersburg, they would return to VCU to play the winner of Gar-Field and Kecoughtan on March 7 at 3:45 p.m.