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Region I, Division 4 Basketball Final: Cougars notch first region title
By STEVE FRANZELLO
Once the final buzzer had sounded at the end of Courtland’s 62–29 victory over visiting Grafton in the Region I, Division 4 final on Friday night, it was time to celebrate for the Cougars.
With senior Anika Trent and junior Janae McNeal leading the parade, the players took a victory run from one end of the bench to the other before accepting the school’s first regional championship trophy in girls basketball.
“It’s an amazing feeling getting this,” said McNeal, the team’s leading scorer and one of the main architects of their dominating run through the region this week.
In three lopsided wins over Chancellor, Eastern View and Grafton, Courtland’s athleticism and suffocating defense have been overpowering. In their last nine quarters, they have held their opponents to under 10 points in each period.
The next stop for Courtland is a Group AA quarterfinal contest next Friday or Saturday at VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond.
The Cougars (28–0) will face the loser of Saturday’s Region II final between Millbrook and Loudoun County. Grafton (24–4) will play the winner of that game in another quarterfinal matchup.
“These girls have worked their butts off,” said Courtland coach J.T. Nino. “They’ve been through some good times and some bad times the past three years, but it’s all good now. They want to really cherish this season.”
The man-to-man defense that gave Caroline and Eastern View headaches earlier in the week was present right from the start of Friday’s decisive victory.
With McNeal leading the charge, the Cougars scored 10 of their 12 points in the first quarter as a result of steals. McNeal made four of them and scored 10 of her game-high 23 points in the first eight minutes.
Despite the fast start, the Clippers stayed within three points (12–9) thanks to the shooting of Hannah Olson and the inside play of power forward Olivia Wilson.
Wilson, a sophomore, paced the Grafton offense with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Olson added seven points, including her team’s only 3-pointer.
But a 21–6 run by the Cougars before halftime took the wind out of the Clippers and pretty much sealed the game’s outcome. Jessica Hairston’s 3-pointer from the right of the key with three seconds left made it 33–15 at intermission.
“They push you out really far on offense and they play so well together,” said Grafton coach Tommy Bayse. “With their defense, they just make you do bad things.”
It’s a familiar story line for nearly all of Courtland’s 28 wins this season. With just six players getting most of the playing time, they’ve handcuffed opponents early and then pulled away with their athleticism.
“We work really hard as a team and just try to do it every game,” said Cougars point guard Adrianna Bradley, a transfer from Orange this season. “And we like to motivate each other.”
As they’ve done for most of the season, all five of the Cougar starters were the big motivators in Friday’s victory. Their hustling play on both ends of the court helped fuel two big scoring spurts in the second half.
Trent finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, including four in the third quarter to help ignite a 17–8 run. Imani Fennell’s long-range jumper increased the lead to 50–23 at quarter’s end.
“We came out focused,” Fennell said. “It was in the back of our minds to get the first regional championship for Courtland. We’ve been looking forward to this all year.”
One of the game’s most entertaining plays came midway through the third quarter. McNeal took a pass on a fast break, looked one way and then split the defense for a layup.
It was that kind of athleticism that overwhelmed the Clippers for most of the night.
“We’ve struggled against quick, athletic teams this year and that’s what they are,” Bayse said. “I knew for us to even have a chance we had to take care of the basketball. But we didn’t and they got on a roll.”
The Clippers, who start three sophomores and a freshman, worked hard, but struggled (like most teams) to overcome Courtland’s relentless wave of pressure.
“We tried a trick triangle-and-two defense on McNeal and Trent to start the second half,” Bayse said. “But then Hairston started hitting everything. It didn’t seem to matter what we did.”
The Clippers opened in a matchup zone defense—one the Cougars hadn’t seen this season—but it didn’t take them long to figure out how to handle it.
“We hadn’t seen the matchup zone all year and it took us a while to try some things and work through it,” Nino said. “Once we did, our steals and transition led to a lot of baskets and a comfortable lead for most of the game.”
“[The zone] gave us a little trouble at first, but we adjusted,” McNeal said. “We just had to relax and play our game. ”
If they can continue to maintain that composure and confidence next week, this group of eight athletes has the chance to continue making history for themselves and for the Courtland basketball program.
Grafton 9 6 8 6 — 29
Courtland 12 21 17 12 — 62
Grafton (24–4): Emily Beyer 4, Hannah Cook 0, Hannah Olson 7, Olivia Wilson 11, Rose Mulherin 4, Christa Hall 2, Bianca Bonner 0, Baxley Savanna 1, Renee Roe 0, Cassie Heinselman 0, Ali Deaver 0. Totals: 12 4-8 29.
Courtland (28–0): Janae McNeal 23, Megan Amrhine 2, Alicia Bova 0, Khari Whited 0, Arianna Bradley 2, Jessica Hairston 12, Anika Trent 14, Imani Fennell 9. Totals: 27 6-14 62.
Three-point goals: Grafton 1 (H. Olson). Courtland 2 (J. Hairston 2).
Steve Franzello: 540/374-5440