Eagle girls rally past Madison, 42-35
FALLS CHURCH — Like a much anticipated prize fight between two heavyweights, the Bull Run District girls’ basketball semifinal matchup between third-seeded Clarke County and second-seeded Madison County was everything everyone expected, and then some.
It has been said many times before that defense wins championships and for the Eagles of Clarke County, their defensive effort Monday night will give them that opportunity.
The Eagles overcame not one, but two early first-half deficits and then rode their defense to a thrilling, come-from-behind 42-35 victory over the Mountaineers at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church.
With the win the Eagles march on to Thursday night’s championship game where they will face top-seeded George Mason.
For the Eagles, it was not only their eighth straight win but also a bit of revenge on the Mountaineers, who ended Clarke’s season last year with a four-point loss in the Bull Run quarterfinals. It also assured the Eagles of a home game in next week’s Region B, Division 2 Tournament.
“This team is a team of battlers, they refuse to give in when things are difficult,” said Clarke County coach Tim Lawrence. “They’ve been challenged all year long and had opportunities when they could drop their heads but they just pull together harder. These kids take a lot of pride in what they’re doing and they’ll never give up until the buzzer sounds. When you have a team like that you’re always going to have a chance.
“I was proud of them because once we were down, instead of playing more tense they relaxed. Once we relaxed I thought we played pretty well. We didn’t shoot the ball very well and we had a lot of turnovers, but the kids battled on the boards and got to the free-throw line. We did a lot of great things, but we had to earn everything that we got tonight.”
The two regular season games between the two teams were decided by a total of eight points, with each team winning on their home floor, and round three on a neutral floor proved to be no different.
Points were at a premium in the early going. Clarke County (20-4) scored first but it took nearly 90 seconds of game time before sophomore Sydney Chrane corralled an errant shot and put it back in to give the Eagles an early 2-0 lead.
Madison (15-8) took the lead on the next trip down the floor when junior Chandler Gentry hit a 3-pointer, but then both teams went cold. Not until Gentry drilled another 3-pointer at the 4:13 mark did the score change. But when it did the Mountaineers got a little rhythm and scored nine straight points (seven by Gentry) and built a 9-2 with just over two minutes left in the first.
Clarke finally found the outside range when Anna Blue Catlett knocked down a 3-pointer and Chrane followed that with a pair of free throws to close the gap to 9-7 at the end of one.
The second quarter followed the exact same pattern. Chrane opened the period by hitting a pair of free throws to tie the game 9-9 before Gentry got hot again for Madison.
Gentry started an 8-0 run with a layup and then buried back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Mountaineers their biggest lead of the game at 17-9.
Not until senior Becky Smith stole the ball near midcourt and went the distance for a layup with 4:14 left in the half did the Eagles score again. But Smith’s theft got Clarke rolling again.
Another offensive rebound and stick back by Chrane made it 17-13. Less then a minute later Chrane pulled the Eagles to within three with a free throw.
With just over a minute to play Clarke’s other senior Rachel Sefton hit a pair of free throws to pull Clarke to within 17-16 and they went into the half down 19-17.
Clarke only made four field goals in the first half (and only eight for the game) but they were deadly from the free-throw line all night long and that proved to be the difference. In the first half the Eagles made 8 of 10, but they shot 21 more in the second half and made 16 of those. In comparison Madison only shot eight for the entire game.
Once the Eagles shook the nerves and got themselves back into the game, their defense took over and it was apparent throughout the second half — specifically Sefton and Anna Bodkin.
At the break the duo were assigned the task of not only slowing down Gentry but stopping her. Gentry scored 17 of Madison’s 19 first half points and hit four 3-pointers.
To say she and her teammates were frustrated in the second half would be an understatement.
“People are going to look at the box score and see Rachel (Sefton) only scored four points but I think between her and Anna Bodkin I thought they really changed the game in the second half with their defense (on Gentry),” Lawrence said. “We had contributions from a lot of people. Our kids hung in there and made just enough plays and that’s a real tribute to them.”
It took over four minutes of play in the second half before either team finally scored, but when the Eagles got it going, there was no looking back.
Chrane hit a pair of free throws to finally break the ice and tie the game 19-19 with 3:56 left in the frame. Next trip down the floor she grabbed another offensive rebound and put it home, giving the Eagles the lead back for good at 21-19.
Catlett then nailed her second 3-pointer of the game before what many felt was the final momentum swing towards the Eagles.
After the Catlett 3, Smith came up with another steal and was headed for what appeared to be another easy layup. However, she was fouled hard from behind and sent flying into the gym wall past the baseline. After several minutes on the floor she was helped towards the training room. She would return to the game later, but the fire was lit.
An intentional foul was called, Chrane stepped in and hit both free throws for Smith (who was unable to shoot at the time) making the run seven points and giving Clarke a 26-19 advantage.
The fourth quarter was all about the Eagles’ ability to make free throws. Though they made only one field goal in the final eight minutes, they were able to extend their lead to as much as nine points by making 12 of 17 free throws in the period. They started the quarter by hitting six straight and finished the game by making five of their last six.
Chrane did the most damage, making 9 of 10 in the fourth (and an amazing 18-of-20 for the game). Catlett buried both of her opportunities and Hannah Ravenscroft made 1 of 2.
“What can you say about Sydney Chrane being able to step up to the free throw line and go 18 for20? I mean that’s phenomenal,” Lawrence said. “I’m really, really proud of her. She’s stepped up so many times, but especially tonight. It just shows how hard she’s worked.”
Though she had only three field goals for the game, Chrane still came away with a game-high 24 points thanks to her work on the free-throw line.
“This is a very big win,” Chrane said. “We knew we had to come back strong and stay focused. We knew what to do. We wanted to play hard and get better. I think once Becky got hurt we all wanted to step up and do it for her. We’ve just got to keep our heads up when we’re down.
“Coach always tells me to push through and to keep scoring at all times. You don’t want them keeping you from that.”
Catlett chipped in with nine points and Sefton added four for the Eagles. Madison was led by Gentry’s 22 points.