ABINGDON, Va. — The Abingdon Falcons embarked on a new quest this season in the Mountain 7 District, but the pathfinder remains the same for the AHS girls basketball team.
Union 64, Abingdon 48
Senior point guard Grace Hess scored 10 points and directed the offense with flair as the Falcons downed the Union Bears 64-48.
Abingdon is now 11-1 overall and 3-0 in the district. The Falcons were coming off a 63-59 overtime win over district power and Class 2 state title contender Ridgeview.
“We have at least eight players that can score at anytime,” Hess said. “That’s an awesome feeling for me because I like to distribute the ball.”
Hess didn’t need an introduction to new rivals such as Wise County Central, Gate City and Ridgeview.
“We’re in one of the best districts in the state now, and we already knew about those schools and their best players,” said Hess, who has signed to play at the Air Force Academy. “Every team is going to give us a good game, and we just have to be prepared to match their intensity. That Ridgeview win meant a lot to us because of their reputation.”
Sophomore gunner Emily Breeding led the Falcons with a season-high 18 points Friday, while sophomore guard Peyton Carter (14 points) and senior post Mattie Gibson (12 points) also played well.
After falling behind 13-6 through one quarter, Union (4-4, 0-2) stayed within striking distance. The Bears trailed 55-44 with 4:41 left in the game before Hess took over with her wise orchestration and deft shooting touch.
Five-foot-nine sophomore Emili Brooks led the Bears with 13 points while seniors Ashley Chester and Abigail Webb supplied 10 points apiece.
AHS coach Jimmy Brown embraces the new challenge for his squad.
“The competition is the Mountain 7 is terrific,” Brown said. “It’s going to take a really good effort to win this district, but we need to be tested for the Class 3 playoffs.”
Once again, the Falcons must navigate a rather confusing points system in their 11-team region. AHS earns seven points for each win, with bonus points awarded for victories over a larger school.
“We don’t play very many bigger schools because not many will come down here to play us,” Brown said. “We just need wins.
“There is a little bit more travel involved in this district. For a couple years we’ve been going straight up Interstate 81 for games, and now we’re taking some scenic roads around Southwest Virginia.”
For Hess, the new teams and playing styles equate to more fun for her cohesive team.
“We’re having a blast,” Hess said.
Union 57, Abingdon 51
The Union boys relied on another James Mitchell moment.
With 1:58 remaining in the game, the 6-5 senior soared over multiple defenders for a layup to give the Bears a 48-47 lead. Moments later, the long-armed Virginia Tech football recruit dove headfirst in the paint to tip a loose ball that eventually wound up in the hands of 5-7 freshman guard Alex Rasnick.
The calm Rasnick then canned a 3-pointer from the corner as Union grabbed a decisive 51-47 advantage with 1:03 left.
“James is a really good athlete, and he helps us in all kind of ways,” Rasnick said. “I’ve playing a lot of basketball all my life, so I’m used to the pressure.”
Mitchell collected his fourth foul with just over a minute left in the third quarter. AHS took a 47-42 lead with 3:33 in the fourth as Union tried to buy time with a zone defense and patient offense.
“When James came back in, he gave us that boost that we needed to get the lead,” said Union coach Zack Moore.
Mitchell finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He was most proud of the assists.
“That approach suits my playing style,” Mitchell said. “Before I look to score, I like to find the open guy. My coach doesn’t really like that, but that’s how I like to play.”
Mitchell said he has worked to bolster his game since high-scoring 6-5 junior Wes Slagle was recently lost to a season-ending knee injury.
“Wes and I have been best friends since second grade,” Mitchell said. “When Wes went down, that hurt me personally because we have a big bond off the court. But we can count on Wes cheering us all the way.”
Rasnick added nine points and steady ball handling against the torrid Abingdon press.
“I’m doing the best I can to help the team every way I can,” Rasnick said. “Wes did everything for us, so we all have to step up now.”
Moore said the Bears have gone to Plan B with Slagle out of the mix.
“We run our offense through James right now,” Moore said. “We try to get him the ball in spots where he can score, and I thought he did a good job of attacking and scoring tonight. James just draws so much attention, and he loves to set up other players for baskets.”
Abingdon, led by first-year coach Casey Johnson, was led by senior guard Thomas Francisco (22 points) and senior forward Ean Bassham (18 points). Bassham relied on a quick first step to slice past defenders while the rugged Francisco popped jumpers and worked the boards.
The AHS boys (7-3, 2-1) have also made a smooth transition to the Mountain 7, which features Gate City.
Entering the next game against Southwest District favorite Graham at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Mitchell is just two points away from reaching the 1,000-career point mark.
“I’ve been struggling lately, but this was a better game for me, and it was a good win for my team,” Mitchell said. “The win is the main thing.”