Experience proved the decisive factor as veteran Bland County beat Burton 48-32 in Saturday’s VHSL Group A, Division 1 quarterfinals at the Salem Civic Center.
“They had a good game plan. I thought we did, too. But the things that got us in the finals of Region D got us today. Experience got us,” said Burton coach Mike Goforth, who led the Norton girls to the state tournament for the first time in the program’s history.
The Lady Bears (21-6) advanced to face Narrows in Thursday’s division semifinals at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Richmond.
Guard Laurel Hankins scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Bland, while post Morgan Brizendine had 10 points and hauled in nine boards.
“A lot of it is that we’re juniors and seniors. We’ve played on a big stage before and we turned it up a notch or two in the fourth quarter when we needed to. He’s got freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” said Lady Bears coach Jason Lambert, whose squad beat Rye Cove 47-46 in last year’s state semifinals before falling to Franklin 72-42 in the semifinals.
“We’ve been here. I told our girls before the game that we were the most experienced team and we had to act like it.”
Ra’Shelle Miller scored 13 points and collected a game-high 14 rebounds for the Lady Raiders (22-5) who wrapped up the school’s winningest girls basketball season. Guard Sheniqua Woods had six points and six rebounds, Brianna Stallard had six points and Iris Hill collected four steals.
Having made it this far, youth-laden Burton — with only one senior on the roster — stands a better than average chance of fighting its way back to the state tournament next year.
Miller, a sophomore, still cried after the game as if there was no tomorrow.
“Well, you know. It’s hard,” said Miller, who also blocked a couple of shots. “They’re a very physical team and they came here mentally ready.”
From the outset, Bland made it difficult for Burton’s halfcourt offense to pass or penetrate to the hoop, and the Lady Raiders didn’t help themselves from the perimeter, shooting 0-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half. The Lady Bears, conversely, got a major leg up when Hankins hit consecutive trifectas to put them up 12-3 with 3:02 remaining in the first quarter.
Burton also lost a little offensive sap early in the second when Miller sat down after taking her second foul on a charge with Norton trailing 18-9. She got back into the game in time to help prevent Bland from running off with it altogether, but collected her third foul — another charge — with 54.5 seconds remaining in the half.
“We’ve watched them and one thing we wanted to do, (Miller), her thing is that she likes to get out and run once she gets the board,” Lambert said. “Our key was that we wanted to stop her. Once she got the board, our guards’ job was to stop her from getting out and running.”
Trailing by seven headed into the final stanza, the Lady Raiders surged to life in the opening minutes of the fourth with an inside bucket from Miller. They then quickly pressed the Lady Bears into a turnover parlayed into a transition layup by Stallard.
But three points was as close as Burton was fated to get. The 6-foot-plus Brizendine picked up two big buckets, and Norton came up scoreless for two possessions when Bland stepped up its presence on the boards. A couple free throws by post Sarah Looney at 5:40 put Bland up 39-30.
Moments later Miller collected her fourth foul, sending Brizendine to the line. She missed both her free throws, but Bland collected the rebound and Hankins was fouled taking it to the rim. She hit the and-one for the 12- point lead.
“They were determined,” Woods said. “We’re going to have to work on what we didn’t do today. We usually do a good job boxing out. But the little things that you don’t do half the time can hurt you.”