Eagles fall to Warriors: Central shuts down Clarke girls in state semis
RICHMOND — Every time it looked like the Clarke County girls’ basketball team might get in the thick of it, Central (Wise) pushed the Eagles away.
Clarke County’s first trip to the state tournament in six years ended in heartache Friday, as Central never trailed in a 56-41 Group A, Division 2 semifinal victory at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.
The Eagles (23-7), who gave up the first seven points of the game, got as close as three early in the second quarter, got as close as six in the third quarter, and were only trailing by seven heading into the fourth quarter (39-32) on the strength of a 9-2 run.
But it was Central’s trapping defense that got the Eagles into a hole in the first place (seven turnovers in the first three minutes), and it was the Warriors’ defense that kept the Eagles at arm’s length in the fourth quarter.
Clarke County turned the ball over on its first three possessions of the fourth quarter en route to going scoreless until Anna Blue Catlett scored with 3:10 left, at which point the score was 46-32.
“I’m proud of our kids for how hard we fought back,” Clarke County coach Tim Lawrence said. “We gave it our best shot, but we just got beat by a better team today.
“Anytime you turn the ball over 34 times, it’s difficult. Some of those turnovers, they were our fault, but a lot of those turnovers were due to their defensive effort. And that’s a tribute to their kids.”
The intensity of the Warriors (28-1) — who will face Floyd County, a 78-67 winner over George Mason, at 3 p.m. today at VCU in the final — made the difference in all facets of the game.
Lawrence came into the game touting Central’s shooting ability from the perimeter as a major concern.
But led by the trio of guards Haley Wyrick (27 points, seven rebounds, two steals) and Logan Reynolds (12 points, six rebounds, seven steals, three assists) and forward Laura Gipe (12 points, 11 rebounds, four steals) all but two of Central’s 40 points from the floor came in the paint.
The Warriors were able to get a number of points in transition as a result of those 34 forced turnovers.
But just as big was brushing aside an 0-for-10 3-point shooting performance by driving to the basket and mixing it up inside for layups, banks shots, putbacks (14 second-chance points total) and foul calls (16 of 30 from the line).
“I did not think [they would get inside] so much,” said Lawrence of a team that was able to penetrate both Clarke County’s man and zone defense. “I knew that they were good penetrators.
“When I’d seen them play, they did a great job of driving, then collapsing the defense and kicking out to their shooters. … But they just got to so many loose balls and so many rebounds. They executed better than we did.”
The Eagles did have their moments, particularly at the end of the third quarter.
Becky Smith (11 points) kick-started the 9-2 run to end the third quarter with the second of her three 3-pointers with 3:14 left in the third.
Buckets from Allison Hicks and Sydney Chrane (team-high 13 points and game-high 16 rebounds) followed, and Hannah Ravenscroft (four assists) closed the quarter by dribbling through a Central trap and feeding Catlett (10 points, seven rebounds) with four seconds left in the third to cap a 7-for-12 shooting performance in the quarter.
But the Eagles also turned the ball over nine times in the third, and after the fourth started with three straight turnovers Clarke County couldn’t find another groove until it was too late.
Central, on the other hand, made its first two field goals of the fourth quarter on layups and added three free throws to keep the Eagles at bay.
In addition to the turnovers, the Eagles made 15 of 43 shots (34.9 percent) and just 7 of 17 free throws (41.2 percent).
“I felt like we were right there where we could tip the balance there several times,” Lawrence said. “But it seemed like whenever we would score, they would come down and get a layup on the other end.
“We had our chances. But when you shoot 15 for 43 and shoot less than 50 percent from the free-throw line, it’s hard to come back from those types of things. If you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, you’re not going to win.”
To the Eagles credit, Clarke County never did let up with its effort, even though its extremely rough start (2 of 11 field goals, 1 of 6 free throws, eight turnovers in the first quarter) easily could have led to a rout.
The Eagles even cut their deficit to single digits again at 49-40 on a Catlett 3-pointer with 2:12 left.
“It was frustrating at first when they got up by so much,” Chrane said. “But I had confidence in our team that we could come back from adversity, because we’ve had it all year.
“I’m proud of us that once they got up, we came right back.”
Senior captain Rachel Sefton and Lawrence were proud of the entire journey that the Eagles had this year. Clarke County only went 9-14 last year, but this year five of their seven losses came to Central (Wise) and George Mason, two of Group A’s best.
“So many people have stepped up individually in getting us to here,” she said. “To make it to this tournament is amazing, and to get to the final four I think says something about our character and the type of team we are.
“We’ve been so close this year, and the ride’s been amazing.”
The only other seniors for the Eagles are Samantha Smith and Becky Smith. When Lawrence began talking about the latter, he started to lose his composure because of how gutsy he feels she is.
Lawrence might have most of his players coming back next year, but there was something special about this particular roster.
“We’ve very disappointed because we felt we had a great chance to win,” Lawrence said. “But in the grand scheme of things, in terms of the season, I’m really proud of these kids for what they’ve done for Clarke County, and how well they represented the school and the community.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.org
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