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Group AA, Division 4 Girls Basketball Final: Cougars get an imperfect conclusion

COURTLAND FALLS TO MILLBROOK,

63–38, IN STATE FINAL

PICTURES: View a photo gallery from the game.

BY ADAM HIMMELSBACH

RICHMOND—As the state championship medals and trophies were rolled onto the basketball court Saturday night, a few of the Courtland girls basketball players couldn’t watch.

Some used their jerseys to wipe away tears. Others buried their faces in their hands, seemingly hoping this was just a bad dream.

But as the Siegel Center public address announcer introduced the newest Group AA, Division 4 state champions, the reality of the moment set in.

Millbrook 63, Courtland 38. One dream was dashed while another was realized.

“It was tough through the entire game,” Courtland forward Jessica Hairston said, “because we dug a hole a little too deep.”

The Cougars (30–1) were well aware of the enormity of their challenge, and perhaps that was part of the problem.

Millbrook entered the game riding a 79-game winning streak, the longest in the history of Virginia High School League girls basketball. The Pioneers (30–0), based in Winchester, had won the last two Division 3 state titles, and were quite comfortable playing in their third state final—this time one division higher.

“You could just tell in warm-ups they’ve been here before,” Courtland coach J.T. Nino said.

The Cougars had been in this building twice in the past week, winning state quarterfinals and semifinals here, with little sign of nerves. But they had not been on this stage, in an arena where the lights were dimmed for pregame introductions and the game was broadcast live to televisions across the state.

No, this was not a regular-season Battlefield District game in front of parents and friends.

But if the Cougars were uneasy at the start, they hid it well. They scored the game’s first two baskets, and a putback by Imani Fennell with 5 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first quarter gave them a 6–2 lead.

“Coming off a start like that definitely boosts our adrenaline and gets us running a lot more,” Hairston said. “But they answered it.”

The Pioneers answered with a frenetic man-to-man defense that was unlike any Courtland had seen this season. They answered it with the dazzling Delaware-bound guard Courtni Green. And they answered with a bruising inside game that led to one easy putback after another.

Two minutes into the second quarter, Courtland’s early four-point lead had turned into a pumpkin, a 24–17 deficit.

“I guess we were just a little rattled and couldn’t’ bring ourselves to play hard against [their defense],” Courtland guard Janae McNeal said. “They’re a really good defensive team.”

Millbrook led, 29–16, when Courtland pieced together a 7–0 run that started late in the second quarter and carried into the third. A putback by Anika Trent pulled the Cougars within

29–23, but the Pioneers then stretched their lead with an 8–0 surge.

Courtland had some hope when Arianna Bradley made a layup and was fouled with 2:55 left in the third, making it 37–28. Green drew her fourth foul on the play and soon went to the bench.

But Millbrook actually added to its lead without its star, and Courtland was unable to pull within 10 for the rest of the game.

“They took what we were giving them,” Hairston said, “and I guess they ran away with it.”

The final score was a bit misleading, as Millbrook made 10 consecutive free throws in the final two minutes to pull away, but the Pioneers’ lead was always comfortable.

Courtland finished with 38 points, nine fewer than its previous low this season.

Still, Millbrook coach Debbie Sanders was impressed by the Cougars.

“If the pressure got to them, it’s going to get to anybody,” she said. “That’s probably one of the most athletic teams we’ve played.”

Trent finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds for Courtland. McNeal added eight points and eight rebounds. The Cougars shot 30 percent from the floor and missed all four of their 3-point attempts.

Although Courtland came up short in its ultimate quest, the Cougars later stepped back and considered all they had accomplished. The district title, the regional title, and the season that was perfect until the very end.

“Getting to this point is incredible, regardless of the loss tonight,” McNeal said. “I’m really proud of my team.”

The Cougars are expected to have pieces in place for another memorable run next year. Trent is the lone senior, and now these underclassmen are familiar with the spotlight that coincides with a state championship.

“I don’t want to experience this ever again, ever,” Hairston said. “And I promise you, I won’t. We’re gonna work so much harder next year.”

    Courtland 12 9 9 8 — 38

    Millbrook 18 11 14 20 — 63

    Scoring

    Courtland (30–1): Janae McNeal 8, Megan Amrhine 0, Alicia Bova 0, Arianna Bradley 8, Jessica Hairston 8, Anika Trent 10, Imani Fennell 4. Totals: 17 4-9 38.

    Millbrook (30–0): Casey Ackeman 0, Danielle Banks 0, Amanda Barlow 0, Brooke Borlie 0, Diauna Farrish 0, Ashley Goodman 0, Courtni Green 21, Sara Mead 13, Lisa Merriman 4, Alisha Mobley 21, Kyleene Rooks 4. Totals: 17 23-31 63.

    Three-point goals: Courtland 0. Millbrook 2 (S. Mead, L. Merriman).

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442

ahimmelsbach@freelancestar.com

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