Lee's girls advance to Final Four

George Thwaites • Mar 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

SALEM, Va. — After having beaten top-ranked Floyd County for the Region C championship, the Radford girls were probably expecting an easier go of it in the state quarterfinals.

But the Bobcats didn’t have a Cluesman.

Chelsea Cluesman scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, and the Lady Generals beat Radford 61-50 in Friday’s VHSL Group A, Division 2 basketball quarterfinals at the Salem Civic Center.

“I just found gaps in the defense and took it to the bucket. Luckily some of them went in,” said Cluesman, who also blocked two shots.

“They had some big girls. I was just trying to box them out and come up with the rebounds.”

Despite having some height to work with, Radford (23-5) had no matchup solution for Lee High’s 5-foot-10, platinum-tressed swing player.

“Physically she was just stronger than we were,” assessed Bobcats coach Kevin Conner.

Lee (21-6) advanced to the Group A, Division 2 Final Four, where it will face either Honaker or Floyd County in a 12:30 p.m. semifinal game at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Richmond. The Lady Tigers and the Lady Buffaloes meet at Virginia High today at 3:30 p.m.

“We just played like champions. We played with a lot of focus and confidence,” Lee coach Stephanie Ward said after clinching the first VHSL Final Four appearance for any Lee County girls basketball team. “We withstood the press. I feel like that was a key, that we were going to have to beat their press. We worked real hard on it and just took it to them. And I thought we played pretty good defense.”

The Lady Generals are eager for a rematch with Honaker, which beat Lee in last week’s Region D championship game.

“We’d really like to play them again. That would be awesome,” said Jalan McPherson, who scored 16 for the Lady Generals and shocked the Bobcats by hitting four 3-pointers in the first quarter.

Her perimeter shooting spree had a huge effect on cold-shooting Radford early on in the game. Lee led 19-11 at the end of the first period and carried a 32-22 advantage into intermission.

“I’ve been hitting some all season, but I went into a slump a few games ago,” McPherson said. “I stayed on that for a few games but I came back shooting and it’s worked for the best.

“I was feeling great about it. I haven’t done that in a while and I felt really good.”

The Lady Generals also got 12 points from freshman guard Makenzie Cluesman. Sareena Music had seven rebounds while Erin Haines took six boards.

Conner said he was chiefly worried about shutting down the Cluesman sisters. While he was aware Lee had some shooters, Radford’s coach admitted that McPherson’s slump leading up to the state tournament somewhat kept her off the radar.

Maryah Sydnor, Radford’s 6-foot sophomore forward, led the Bobcats with 13 points, nine rebounds and a block. Guards Pip Pattison and Sarah Donnelly chimed in with 12 points apiece.

In the second half the Bobcats put first-half chagrin behind themselves, making some key adjustments that helped close the gap to 38-36 by Sydnor’s baseline jumper with 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter. They tied it 40-40 on the tall girl’s bucket down low at 7:45 in the fourth.

Lee High led 47-43 when Chelsea Cluesman drew her fourth foul with 3:08 remaining in the game. When she didn’t take a seat, Conner thought Radford might have a chance to up its percentages for a comeback in the final stretch.

“I thought the way she attacked the basket, we could maybe slide over and take a charge,” said Conner, whose squad accomplished just that for Cluesman’s second foul in the third period. “But she handled herself very well when she got that fourth foul. She kept herself in the game.”

Cluesman contributed four free throws to Lee High’s 12-for-14 collective showing from the foul line over the final 1:20 of the ballgame, otherwise lending her presence and leadership to the Lady Generals’ solid end-game performance.

Ward agreed that not giving Cluesman a short break at that point in the game was a risk. But it was a calculated risk that paid off in the end.

“I don’t like that, but Chelsea has been in this game long enough to be smart and not make silly fouls,” Ward said. “Sometimes you’ve got to play, you’ve got to go with your horses.

“I trusted her. To win the game, we had to go with her.”

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