Sherando girls end Pioneers’ district streak
STEPHENS CITY — A six-game losing streak easily could have buried the Sherando girls’ basketball team — heck, even Warriors coach Kevin Reed joked that if you were to drive by his house, you could see the hole that he dug for himself for someone to fill with dirt after he jumped in it.
Apparently though, the Warriors players are more interested in scaling mountains than climbing into holes. And by winning Tuesday, they took a big step toward achieving something no one but one school could even think about over the last four seasons — planting the Sherando name at the top of the Northwestern District standings.
The Warriors snapped Millbrook’s 49-game Northwestern District winning streak with a 50-47 victory Tuesday night.
The Pioneers had not lost a district contest since losing to Brentsville on Feb. 21, 2008 in the district tournament final. That streak does not include several victories over district opponents in regional tournament competition.
Sherando (5-8, 2-0 Northwestern) came out blazing — the Warriors scored 12 of the game’s 13 points and led 18-5 after the first quarter — and then had just enough to hold on against a Millbrook (10-2, 1-1) team that scored 20 of the quarter’s 27 points in the fourth quarter and had several chances to tie the game late.
Millbrook missed three 3-pointers in the final minute, the last of which by Brenna Cook failed to find the rim with two seconds remaining.
Sherando’s tallest player — 5-foot-11 Heidi Brown — came up the biggest with career-highs of 23 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks, and she aptly described the meaning of Tuesday night’s win.
“It’s huge,” she said. “It’s really exciting. ... Everybody knows about their streak, and for us to be able to kill their 49-game win streak in districts, it feels good.”
Sherando was able to in large part because its confidence in its abilities was completely evident from the opening tip. Given that Sherando — which only has one player that isn’t a sophomore or freshmen — had to endure that six-game losing streak over two weeks before snapping it on Friday with a 54-48 win over James Wood, that says a lot.
“Kids have the ability to bounce back,” Sherando coach Kevin Reed said. “... We teach them, ‘You grow through adversity, you have to get better, and it’s a season, not a few games.’ Really, all the credit goes to the girls, because they come to the gym willing to get better.
“... [Our first quarter tonight] gave them a lot of confidence. Anytime you come out with a fast start like that, it’s good for you. [But] I have to really emphasize this. We expected to do this. There was no jitters in the locker room or anything like that. They take practice so well and they were so focused, that they really expected to come out and put on a show in the first quarter and execute.”
They definitely did at that. The Pioneers came out with a diamond-and-one defense that was designed to take away Sherando freshman Lauren Reed (14 points), and Millbrook’s Casey Ackerman did her job by keeping Reed without a shot in the first four minutes.
But Brown got open for a couple of jumpers from the top of the free-throw line for a total of six points in the first two and a half minutes to eventually get the Pioneers out of that look.
And the Warriors’ full-court pressure forced turnovers on Millbrook’s first three possessions and set the tone for a quarter in which Sherando converted several of the Pioneers’ eight first-quarter turnovers into points. Kevin Reed loved the effort — when Lauren Reed took a charge with 1:34 to go, he started jumping up and down and pumping his fists while yelling.
The Pioneers only made 2 of 12 field goals in the first quarter, and with Sherando using a half-dozen different defenses, Millbrook only made 14 of 59 shots (23.7 percent) overall.
“We came out with high energy and intensity,” said Lauren Reed, who buried three 3-pointers over the final 3:15 of the first quarter. “We were so excited. We were waiting for this game.”
The Warriors couldn’t keep up the pace, but they stayed in control and led 29-17 at the half and 43-27 after three quarters. The Pioneers cut their deficit to eight at 44-36 with 5:37 to go. But Brown responded with two putbacks, and with the score 50-38 with two and a half minutes to go, it appeared that Sherando had taken Millbrook’s best punch.
However, the one constant with Millbrook this season has been its grittiness, and a three-point play from Brooke Borlie (16 of her team-high 18 points in the second half, nine rebounds) and a 3-pointer from Cook (17 points, six steals) with 1:02 to play suddenly made it 50-47.
Sherando threw the ball away on the next possession, and the Warriors would miss all four of its free throws in the final minute. But Cook missed a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left and missed a turnaround in the lane with 25 seconds left, Ackerman missed a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, and with Sherando’s Ryan Magalis (six rebounds, three assists, three steals) all over her, Cook came up short of the rim on a three with two seconds left, allowing the Warriors to run out the clock.
Though the Pioneers lost, Millbrook coach Debby Sanders couldn’t feel better about her team. It didn’t lose its poise despite its early struggles, and it forced 12 of Sherando’s 27 turnovers during an intense fourth quarter. Both teams had to make adjustments, as Sherando lost Dani Rizzari (six assists) and Jessica Hakel to fouls while Millbrook lost Ky Rooks and Ashley Goodman to fouls.
“I can’t be prouder of our kids,” Sanders said. “An environment like this, they’re not used to, and they fought. Any other team probably would have folded with that kind of [deficit] and that kind of pressure.
“Where do you find fault? We made mistakes, they made mistakes. But to fight like that to the bitter end, I’m proud. I’m really proud. It is what it is. I think the score says it all.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1