Voyager survives final test for first conference title
Drake’s hip-hop song “Started FromThe Bottom” blared from the speakers before Voyager Academy’s Carolina 12 1-A conferenace tournament championship game against Graham River Mill on Friday night.
But after the Vikings won a 55-54 slugfest, perhaps it’s time for a new theme song. Maybe Queen’s standby “We Are the Champions”?
Voyager Academy’s basketball program is only three years old, yet students stormed their home court Friday night — joined by Mason Walton, the young son of Vikings coach Patrick Walton — after claiming their first league title.
“It means everything,” Walton said. “Last year, we couldn’t even qualify for a state playoff, we couldn’t even qualify for anything. It means a lot to be able to step in tonight and win a conference tournament, knowing we lost the first game last year against Raleigh Charter.
“We started from the bottom, and now we’re here at the top.”
River Mill won the girls’ conference title by routing Franklin Academy 58-30.
It wasn’t an easy task for Voyager — which played as the visiting team since River Mill was the top seed — either in the three years before the game or during the title matchup. The Vikings trailed 48-43 after River Mill’s William Curasi sank his second consecutive 3-pointer with 4:35 to play.
Walton didn’t call timeout, and the Vikings fought back.
“The thing is, in those situations, you never doubt yourself,” Walton said. “You always have confidence, and we always stress that we want to live in the moment, and the moment will live in you. That’s what we did. We found ways to get stops, found ways to make it happen and always believed. We never doubted.”
Thanks to four consecutive Jaguar turnovers, three on offensive fouls, Voyager inched back in the game. Coltyn Faucette (15 points, 15 rebounds) made a free throw and then scored on a feed from Christopher Sause to cut the lead to 49-48.
River Mill later took a 52-50 lead with 55 seconds left on a driving bucket by Jesse Crawford. But Voyager then took command from the free throw line.
Gary Ford, who had missed 4 of 6 free throws earlier in the quarter, made 3 of 4 in the final 50 seconds. Voyager’s defense forced two missed shots, and Diante Parker (10 points) put the game away with two more free throws with 12.4 to play.
“Those are the things we practice and keep preaching,” Walton said of the clutch free throws. “When you play championship-type basketball, you want to be able to do championship-type things. You’ve got to be able to finish games and make plays, and that’s what they did.”
Many of Voyager’s plays were from the line, as they the Vikings attempted 39 free throws and made 23. An astounding 65 personal fouls were called in a slugfest befitting a championship game.
Three River Mill players fouled out, including leading scorer R.J. Alvardo (17 points), who was called for a charge and then drew a technical foul in a crucial possession in the fourth quarter.
“I would think that since it’s a conference tournament game, you just have to go at it,” Walton said. “It was definitely a physical game, but we made the most of it. We always want to practice good sportsmanship, no matter what. We don’t ever want any teams to confuse how hard we play with how physical we are.”
Voyager 55, River Mill 54
VOYAGER — Coltyn Faucette 15, Patrick Lester 12, Diante Parker 10, Matt Jones 6, Gary Ford 6, Christopher Sause 6.
RIVER MILL — R.J. Alvarado 17, Jesse Crawford 13, William Curasi 9, Bobby Jennings 6, Alek Buie 3, Cody Moore 2, Hunter Rudd 2, Seth Clapp 1, Jon Adams 1.
3-point goals—Voyager 2 (Stone 2), River Mill 5 (Curasi 3, Crawford 1, Alvarado 1). Technical fouls—River Mill 1 (Alvarado). Total fouls—Voyager 34, River Mill 31.
Records—Voyager 16-9, River Mill 14-12.