CASTLEWOOD — Lee and J.J. Kelly have emerged as state title contenders after weeks on basketball’s roller-coaster ride through Southwest Virginia.
Lee bumped off Virginia High 47-45 and Kelly defeated Gate City 66-32 Thursday night in the VHSL’s Region D, Division 2 tournament semifinals.
Both qualified for the state quarterfinals and will meet Saturday night at Virginia High for the region championship.
Makenzie Cluesman, a 5-foot-8 sophomore, calmly dropped in two free throws with four seconds remaining to clinch Lee’s victory over the Lady Bearcats.
She was fouled on a drive after Lee (16-8) had taken a timeout with 7.3 seconds remaining and the score tied.
“I was trying to take it to the bucket,’’ Cluesman said. “I needed to step up there with confidence and hit those free throws. I knew I could make them. I knew they were going in.’’
The Bearcats managed to get off a last-second shot but missed.
“We had a designed play set up,’’ said Stephanie Ward, Lee’s coach. “The ball was going to be in the hands of either Jalan McPherson or Makenzie.’’
Lee’s fans were ecstatic.
“It’s a pretty big win,’’ Cluesman said. “We’ve wanted to beat Virginia High all season. We didn’t play well against them the first two times.’’
Cluesman led the youthful Lady Generals with 23 points. She made 8 of 13 floor shots and 7 of 10 free throws. She also had nine rebounds and four assists.
Freshman Chelsey Parsons pulled down 13 rebounds and sophomore Morgan Miles claimed 10.
Lee had to deal throughout with the scoring of 6-foot-2 Savanna Pippin, a Division I prospect, and Abigail Shankel. Pippin scored 26 and Shankel 13.
Ward surprised the Bearcats by playing zone most of the way.
“I never imagined we’d finish the game in a zone but it was so effective,’’ she said. “We didn’t allow them to crash the boards. They’re great at offensive rebounds.’’
Lee outrebounded the Bristolians 42-27, a stunning margin for a much shorter team.
“Our entire team played with a lot of heart,’’ Ward said. “We had a lot of composure on the floor.’’
Offensively, the Lady Generals consistently eluded defenders with their shuffle. “We scrubbed them off with a lot of cuts,’’ Ward said.
It was Mullins here, Mullins there, Mullins everywhere as Kelly (19-6) beat Gate City. Allison Mullins led the way with 15 points, followed by Kaely Mullins with 12 and Ashley Mullins with 10. Allison and Ashley, 6-2 sophomores, are twins.
The Lady Indians stormed to a 22-2 lead.
“We executed to perfection in the first quarter,’’ Kelly coach Robin Dotson said. “We shot well. Shooting is like love — it covers up a lot of deficiencies if you can put the ball in the hole.
“We’ve had several games like this but some in which we couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean. The bench gave us some great minutes.’’
Megan Starnes’ 10 points paced the Lady Blue Devils.
“We came out flat and played with no energy on defense. Our nerves got the best of us,” Gate City coach Kelly Houseright said. “Considering we had only one win starting January, we had a successful season — doubling last season’s win total. We made it here and it was a good experience for our kids.’’