Floyd County played with the kind of ferocity you’d expect from defending state champions.
The vaunted Lady Buffaloes pressed and trapped their way to an early lead and held onto it for a 62-47 win over the Lady Generals at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.
Floyd County (26-3) will take on George Mason (23-6) in today’s Division 2 title game, set for a 3 p.m. tipoff.
“We’d heard about (Lee High) and saw that they were very athletic,” said Lady Buffaloes coach Alan Cantrell, who has steered Floyd County to four consecutive Final Four appearances. “We’d heard that they were playing some of their best ball here toward the end of the season That’s when you want your team to peak. My hat’s off to them.”
Senior guard Brittany Avancini, last year’s Associated Press player of the year, led the defending champs with 28 points, six assists and six steals.
“The last couple games, you just want to go out big. It’s all or nothing right now,” said Avancini, who will play her college basketball at Liberty University. “I’ve kind of had a slump the last couple of weeks. But coach pushed me and my teammates pushed me and it really helped.”
As impressive as Avancini was, the real star of the show was Floyd County’s collectively applied pressure defense, which was varied, disruptive and relentless. In that the Lady Buffaloes didn’t collect more turnover-generated buckets than they did was a credit to Lee’s own defensive reflexes.
Lee High (21-7) had practiced against its boys varsity counterparts in an effort to simulate Floyd’s fiendishly effective pressure package. But despite coach Stephanie Ward’s best efforts aimed at stemming Floyd’s initial onslaught, the Lady Generals struggled from the outset with the quickness and depth deployed by Cantrell.
“We worked really hard trying to combat a lot of their pressure. Still yet, their pressure was very effective in rattling (us) and creating turnovers. They forced us to make some mistakes,” said Ward. “We just couldn’t get into any rhythm or flow of our game. That’s what they do.”
Chelsea Cluesman scored 11 points for Lee, collecting six rebounds and four assists. Jalan McPherson also scored 11 while Erin Haines added nine points and nine rebounds and Sareena Music had nine points with four steals. Makenzie Cluesman had seven rebounds.
“I knew they were going to come and get in our face like they did. We got rattled there at the beginning and we just couldn’t come back,” said Chelsea Cluesman, a 5-foot-10 senior who is sorting through college offers to play golf, basketball and possibly even softball.
“I was excited to play (Floyd County). They’ve been here every year and I knew it would be a good experience to play them.”
Lee outrebounded Floyd 42-41, but committed 28 turnovers — 11 in the first quarter as the Lady Buffaloes built an 18-7 lead.
The Lady Generals threatened to climb back into contention early in the second period with a couple of inside buckets from Haines and Makenzie Cluesman. Floyd responded with an 11-2 run that included consecutive 3- pointers from Brittany Bourne, a layup by Kayla Hartman and a trifecta off the dribble by Avancini that made it 31-13 with 4:37 remaining in the half.
Buffeted but unbowed, the Lady Generals whittled the margin down to 12 points on Chelsea Cluesman’s stickback with 2:11. Another trey from Bourne enabled the Lady Buffs to take a 38-22 lead to intermission.
McPherson, who’d shot cold for much of the game, raised prospects for a Lady Generals comeback when she got on the perimeter late in the third quarter. She collected a four-point play with 1:23 remaining in the period and made it 47-35 with her 3-pointer at the 55-second mark off a Chelsea Cluesman assist.
The surge proved ephemeral. McPherson added a layup at the end of a press-breaking relay at 6:51 in the fourth quarter. Moments later she took a seat with her fourth foul, but even after returning, she didn’t score again.
“Even after I made those, they still weren’t in my face. I just wasn’t focusing on my shot and they just weren’t falling,” McPherson said.
For the remainder of the final frame, the Lady Generals refused to led the Lady Buffs stampede them — but failed to rein them in. Music fouled out with 2:21 remaining in the game and McPherson took her fifth with 1:27 on the clock.
“The kids never quit. They played hard. I think they represented our school and community well,” said Ward, who made two state semifinal appearances as a player with Jonesville in the late 1980s.
“This is the first time that Lee High has made it to the Final Four and I think a great accomplishment and a great experience for our team to be a part of this.”
In Friday’s earlier semifinal game, Nicole Mitchell scored 14 points and collected 10 rebounds as George Mason edged Lancaster 54-52. Kim Kenny and Chantal Thomas added 12 points apiece for the Lady Mustangs.
Lancaster’s Andrea White, an impressive 6-foot junior swing player, scored 23 points. grabbed 13 boards, scarfed up six steals and doled out five assists for the Lady Devils (19-5).