Clarke County girls hold off Lancaster 45-41 to reach state semifinal
NORFOLK — Things were unraveling quickly for the Clarke County girls’ basketball team.
An eight-point lead at end of the third quarter was gone, and with 27.6 seconds left in the game the Eagles had just committed their second turnover in 45 seconds, a stretch that also saw Clarke County give up three offensive rebounds to Lancaster before eventually committing a foul that allowed the Red Devils to take and sink two free throws that tied the game.
The situation was screaming for someone on the Eagles to stop the bleeding, and Clarke County coach Tim Lawrence wasn’t the least bit surprised to see the girl who has demonstrated leadership time and time again step up and make her presence felt.
Senior captain Rachel Sefton set up what turned out to be the game-winning free throw by Anna Blue Catlett by tipping the inbounds pass with 25.5 seconds left to Catlett, who was fouled, and then Sefton proceeded to make another steal and hit three free throws over the remainder of the game to cap a thrilling finish and give Clarke County a 45-41 win over Region A, Division 2 champion Lancaster Friday night at Old Dominion University’s Ted Constant Convocation Center.
The Eagles (23-6), the Region B, Division 2 runner-up, move on to next Friday’s semifinals, which will take place at 12:15 p.m. at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Richmond. Clarke County will face the winner of today’s quarterfinal between Central (Wise) and Patrick Henry (Glade Spring).
The final minute was probably a little more thrilling than the Eagles — who never trailed — would have liked, but Lawrence couldn’t have been happier following a game in which Clarke County got contributions from everyone.
Sophomore Sydney Chrane had 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, sophomore Allie Hicks had 10 points (six of which came during the 5:54 Chrane sat out in the second quarter with three fouls), Catlett had nine points, freshman point guard Hannah Ravenscroft had five steals and three assists, and Sefton had six points, two assists and two steals.
“I’m just so proud of our kids,” said Lawrence, whose team was ahead 34-26 after three quarters. “The type of character that they showed … we had opportunities where we could have folded.
“We had some uncharacteristic turnovers that could have hurt us, but it was a gutsy win. We had to fight for everything that we got.”
Sefton was doing much of that fighting at the game’s conclusion.
There was her tip of the inbounds pass to Catlett, who knocked down a free throw with 25.5 seconds left. Sefton’s steal of an inbounds pass with 18 seconds left resulted in her being fouled with 17.7 seconds, and she hit a free throw. And after Ravenscroft forced a jump ball with 11.9 seconds left, Sefton was fouled with 9.6 seconds left and nailed both of her throws to essentially clinch the win.
On defense, Sefton said she was just responding to her coach’s orders to apply pressure. And on the free throws, she was just doing what any good captain relishes — being there for her teammates.
“I was definitely nervous, but I looked over at the bench and [assistant coach Regina] Downing told me that we need to focus and calm down, and that’s what I did,” Sefton said. “Syd and Blue came up to me and said, ‘Just put these in, we need this.’ I knew our team needed them, so I couldn’t let my team down.”
Lawrence said her contributions definitely go beyond those 20 magical seconds, both on Friday and throughout her career.
“It wasn’t just her defense, and it wasn’t just her clutch free throws,” Lawrence said. “She made a lot of great passes when we were kind of flustered there for a while, and that settled us down. Her leadership on the court tonight was just absolutely phenomenal.
“It says a lot about a kid who gives up her starting position because we were trying to work on some different rotations. She’s such an unselfish player. She didn’t bat an eye about it. She just always does what’s best for the team. For her to come up so big like this, the biggest moment of her basketball career, speaks volumes about her.”
Of course, the Eagles also needed Catlett to knock down a free throw with 25.6 seconds left. She missed her second free throw, but making the first — part of Clarke County’s 13-of-16 performance at the line — put the necessary pressure on Lancaster (23-6).
“When I was shooting that first free throw, what was going through my head was that I never felt more confident in my life,” Catlett said. “After that, we all just got stronger.”
It was also fitting that the Eagles finished the game with so many big defensive plays, because Clarke County’s defense gave Lancaster fits throughout.
Red Devils coach Joanne Webb-Fary gave the Eagles credit for their in-your-face man-to-man, and Clarke County forced 26 turnovers while holding the Red Devils to 13-of-43 shooting (30 percent).
“I thought our pressure on their guards really kept them from getting into the offensive sets like they want to,” Lawrence said. “We were concerned about [6-foot-4 Aleyah Davenport, who had two points on 1-of-8 shooting], and we knew that they had a couple kids who could drive and score, and I thought our defensive pressure on the perimeter was great.
“While we gave up a few drives trying to avoid some fouls here and there, we just took them out of what they really wanted to do. That’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in through the years at Clarke County, our defense. We may not always play great at the offensive end, but we have such gutsy kids, such hard-working kids, they don’t want to let their team down by missing an assignment or giving up an open pass.”
The Eagles didn’t let Chrane down when she went to the bench with three fouls with 5:54 left in the second quarter, this after her nine points gave the Eagles a 13-12 lead after one. With the Eagles leading 17-13 when Chrane sat down, Hicks scored six of Clarke County’s eight points to help the Eagles take a 25-19 lead into the half.
Clarke County kept it going from there and pulled it out late, and now the Eagles are in the state final four.
“We’re all really excited,” Chrane said. “We just know what we have to do, and that’s stay focused through these games and do what we do best.”
The Eagles hadn’t won a state tournament game since beating Floyd County in the 2007 Group A state final, which came two games after beating Lancaster in the state quarters.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Lawrence, whose team went 9-14 last year. “I’m not just ecstatic for me. I’m ecstatic for the kids, but I’m also ecstatic for all those coaches in our youth program that helped these kids along the way, middle school coaches, assistant coaches. This is a community win, because the community helped these kids get to where they are.
“For them to be in the state final four, particularly after the type of adversity we fought through last year … we didn’t have the type of success we wanted to have, and it would have been easy for our kids to give up. The kids that are on this team refuse to allow that to define who they are, and they kept fighting and getting better. That’s why we’re going to Richmond. It’s all about their heart.”
Shamerah Taylor had 17 points and 12 rebounds to lead Lancaster.
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.org
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