Carroll County’s girls’ basketball team is heading back to the state tournament for the first time in four years after a thrilling 59-54 victory Tuesday over Loudoun County in a 4A West Quarterfinal in Hillsville.
Carroll County (22-3) trailed all of 11 seconds, but had to hang on with everything it had down the stretch as the Cavaliers made just 4 of 14 free throws in the final three minutes. Loudoun County (20-3) had the number one seed in the region all but locked up before being upset Friday night in its conference title game by county-rival Loudon Valley. Still, the Raiders proved to be a tough out as they gave Carroll and its packed gym all they could handle.
“That’s a tremendous basketball team. They are not 20-1 in the regular season for nothing. They are solid,” Carroll County head coach Marc Motley said. “They have five kids they start that can all score, all defend, all pass the ball, they all rebound and they are very, very active. We made just enough plays to get out of here with a victory tonight.”
Loudoun took a 1-0 lead on a Julia Ng free throw. It would be the Raiders only lead of the game as Mariah Carter answered 11 seconds later with a layup off a Mattie Kennedy assist. Keely Lundy would add a layup and a pair of 3-pointers to increase the Cavalier advantage to 13-7 before the Raiders ended the opening quarter with a 4-0 run.
Carter got hot in the second quarter, scoring six unanswered points to put the Cavs in front 22-13 midway through the period. But every time it looked like Carroll would pull away, Loudoun answered with a run. An Alyssa Page 3-pointer brought the Raiders back to within 26-20 with 14 ticks left in the half before Carter penetrated the lane and found Lundy for a deep three at the buzzer to make it a nine-point Cavalier advantage.
Carroll’s lead grew to 10 points after a technical foul on Loudoun coach Derek Fisher, but the Raiders came to life after that, forcing seven Cavalier turnovers in the third period. A steal and layup by Emily Miller completed an 11-2 run that cut Carroll’s lead to 33-32. Haley Turman’s lone two points came at the most crucial time, however, as her putback of a miss ended the run. Kennedy’s driving layup with 20 seconds left in the period gave the Cavs the slightest of leads, 37-34 heading into the final period.
While Fisher’s earlier technical seemed to ignite his team, the Loudoun coach picked up another between the third and fourth periods, earning him an early seat in the locker room. Carroll capitalized, opening the period on a 10-2 run, keyed by six points from Carter and four from Lundy, to open the lead back to 47-36.
“I don’t know what happened,” Motley said of Fisher’s second technical. “They got some pressure on us and we were able to attack the basket and we found Mariah on the weak side once or twice. We got penetration in the lane and when the help came I felt like we got a couple of easy baskets that way. Then we hit a couple of free throws early in the fourth quarter to try to extend that lead, which gave us just enough cushion to weather the storm until we could get out of this thing with a victory. I kept looking at the scoreboard thinking how many points are we going to have to have to win because I knew they were going to attack…Fortunately enough for us we made just enough plays down the stretch to win.”
Lundy led the charge for Carroll in the first half, scoring 13 points and drilling three 3-pointers before intermission. Carter added 16 points. Meanwhile, Kennedy had another big night, scoring 21 points, although she made just 12-of-24 free throws as the Cavaliers had to hold their collective breaths down the stretch. She made two of her last four attempts in the final 18.3 seconds, however, to seal the game, sending Carroll to Thursday’s regional semifinal against Millbrook and locking up one of eight spots in the upcoming 4A State Tournament.
“This is an awfully talented group I’ve got right here. They play hard. They defend. They attack the basket, and for the most part we usually make free throws. We just had a little lapse there for a couple of minutes in the fourth quarter,” Motley said. “But this is a talented group. This is not something I didn’t expect us to do when they came in as freshmen and sophomores. I didn’t expect them to not make the state tournament. I felt like they were going to be as talented as any group that has come through Carroll County, so I expected them to do great things. I hope we are not done. And I keep telling them that. After the Fleming game, I said, ‘Absolutely you can’t be satisfied. You’ve got to stay hungry and you can absolutely not be satisfied with where you are.’ And our kids right now, every single kid I feel like I am putting on the floor wants to win as bad as each other. They all are carrying each other right now.”
Two years ago, Carroll had to make the long haul to Charlottesville for a regional quarterfinal. The Cavaliers lost that game, but found out Tuesday how much the home-court advantage can mean. Motley couldn’t praise the Carroll faithful enough for their impact on the win against Loudon.
“Man, our sixth man up there in the crowd is probably worth 10 points. I mean, they are unbelievable. I love it. Oh yeah, this is a huge difference. You know, we go to Charlottesville and we had a bigger crowd than they did, but we didn’t have this kind of student support,” Motley said. “Our student section, they are great. I love them man. They are rowdy.”
After beating William Byrd five days earlier in a conference semifinal, Motley said he felt like the best teams in the region were going to be William Fleming, Loudoun County, Millbrook and Freedom. Of course, the Cavaliers went on to beat the Colonels on Friday in the Conference 24 title game. And with Fleming’s upset win Tuesday at Freedom, the Cavs will now be at home both Thursday and Saturday as the highest remaining seed left in the region.
“I really felt like those were the teams to beat and we have already beat two of the four,” Motley said of William Fleming and Loudoun County. “And we are getting a third one coming here Thursday, so if our kids aren’t pumped up enough or confident enough to play against them, I don’t know what else you do. Our kids should be glowing with confidence right now. That’s an outstanding basketball team. Our kids should be beaming with confidence right now and I hope we are able to take that with us for the next few games.”
Loudon Co. 11 9 14 20 – 54
Carroll Co. 13 16 8 22 – 59
Loudon County – Miller 4 0-2 8, Ng 0 5-6 5, Page 7 0-0 18, Villaflor 8 33-5 20, Gianclos 1 1-2 3. 3-pointers – Page 4, Villaflor 1.
Carroll County – Lundy 7 1-2 18, Dalton 1 0-0 2, Kennedy 4 12-24 21, Haynes 0 0-2 0, Carter 5 6-6 16, Turman 1 0-0 2. 3-pointers – Lundy 3, Kennedy 1.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN