NORFOLK — After three one-sided state tournament quarterfinal losses in four seasons, the brass ring — a trip to the final four — was finally within reach for Grafton High’s girls basketball team.
Loudoun County snatched it away, finishing with a six-point run in the final three-plus minutes to beat the Clippers 53-48 in a Group AA Division 4 game Saturday at Old Dominion University’s Constant Center.
Grafton (26-3) led 48-47 with 3 minutes, 35 seconds remaining on a Renee Roe free throw. Poor shooting, a lack of poise and a terrific effort by the young Raiders (24-5) down the stretch were the Clippers’ undoing.
“I thought this was going to be our year, at least to get past this game,” Grafton coach Tommy Bayse said. “We played well in winning our region, beating a Courtland team that finished second in the state and returned almost all of its players.
“But this might have been our poorest shooting game all year. Give (Loudoun County) credit: They played good man-to-man, in-your-face defense down the stretch. They made the plays and we didn’t.”
The first big play was Gabrielle Gillis’ pass that split the Grafton defense and set up Elisabeth Gianelos for a layup that gave the Raiders a 49-48 lead with 3:20 left. Then Chloe Knox stole a Grafton pass and threw long to Alyssa Paige for a layup to make it 51-48 with 2:49 to go.
Clippers star Olivia Wilson attempted to tie the game with a 3-pointer, but missed badly as the ball skimmed off the side of the backboard. The Raiders made their third consecutive shot, with Knox hitting Gianelos for a layup on an inbound pass to stretch the lead to 53-48 with 2:13 remaining.
The Clippers never cut into that lead. They had two shots blocked, missed two others and turned the ball over three times in the final two minutes.
And, because they had committed just three fouls going into the final minute, they could belatedly foul only enough to get Loudoun County to the line for a single free throw in the final minute. The swift, decisive ending left the Clippers stunned and in tears.
The first half was a game of runs. Grafton led 12-4 early behind the shooting of Hall and Wilson (11 points). But the Raiders settled down, began throwing the ball over the three-quarter-court trap, and would commit only 13 turnovers against a Grafton team that often forces 30.
Knox and Maggie Phillips, the Raiders’ 6-footers, combined for 17 points to give their team a 29-25 halftime lead. Bayse switched to a triangle-and-two defense to slow Knox (12 points) and Phillips (10 points), with Hall playing a key role, and the Clippers remained in the hunt.
Hall shot the Clippers back into the lead with seven points early in the second half. Her 7-of-14 shooting stood out as Grafton made just 20 of 54 (37 percent).
Loudoun County made 55 percent (23 of 42). Gianelos, an unheralded freshman, led the way by making 7 of 9, several on stickbacks, in scoring a team-high 15 points.
Grafton will get a chance to redeem itself. All of the starters and seven of the top eight players likely will return.
“This wasn’t our year,” Hall said. “It will have to be next year.”
Loudoun County, with an all-underclassman team that includes 10 freshmen or sophomores, moves on to a state semifinal Wednesday in Richmond against the Salem Spartans.
“They showed a lot of poise at the end of the game and understood the situation,” Raiders coach Derek Fisher said. “Any coach would be proud of that.”
LOUDOUN COUNTY 53, GRAFTON 48
LOUDOUN COUNTY(24-5): Gillis 2, Paige 6, Knox 12, Tibbits 8, Phillips 10, Gianelos 15. Totals 23 3-7 53.
GRAFTON (26-3): Hall 15, Beyer 10, Roe 3, Olson 9, Wilson 11. Totals 20 4-10 48.
Loudoun County 9, 20, 10, 14 – 53
Grafton14, 11, 13, 10 – 48
3-point goals – Loudoun County 4 (Knox 2, Tibbits 2), Grafton 4 (Beyer 2, Hall, Wilson).Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times