CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. - In the long run, J.J. Kelly's loss to Floyd County on Saturday night does not and cannot compare to the tragedy the Buffaloes experienced this week.
That didn't make it any easier for the Lady Indians when the final horn sounded on an 83-45 loss in the VHSL Group A quarterfinals.
"I've got a group of heartbroken girls in there," Kelly coach Robin Dotson said. "We thought we had a chance to win the ballgame."
And the Lady Indians did.
After some early struggles, Kelly parlayed some trap-busting passes into a 20-19 lead with 5:40 remaining in the second period. Floyd County answered with an 11-0 run, but late buckets by Lauren Mullins and Sarah Saunders made it an eight-point game, 36-28, at the break.
Then things got ugly. The Buffs (26-0) dominated the third period by a 20-4 margin, with senior post Adrienne Womack scoring half of her 22 points in that frame. That was enough to ensure that top-ranked Floyd County would stay unbeaten.
"Our game is to run, run, run," Womack said. "In the second half, it seems like they got a little winded."
"We all came out in the second half and did a much better job settling down," Floyd County coach Alan Cantrell said.
Settling down was imperative after an emotional week for the team. Joshua Cantrell, the head coach's grandson and assistant Travis Cantrell's son, passed away after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in December. Both Cantrells were out of school all week, and Alan Cantrell wore a button with a picture of himself and his grandson at the game.
"We just had to pull together for him and for ourselves," Womack said.
Added Dotson: "They're a team on a mission."
Floyd County won the game in the second half but it might have been a different outcome if not for a few bounces of the ball in the first half.
Kelly (21-8) committed 20 turnovers, went 4-of-11 at the free throw line and - according to Dotson - missed 11 layups.
"We missed a lot of opportunities in the first half. Whether that would be a difference in the game, I don't know," Dotson said. "We kept saying, if we'll execute we can play with this team."
As it was, Kelly stayed competitive in the first half, forcing 17 turnovers and throwing deep passes behind the Buffs' relentless press. Saunders was the distributor for many of those long throws, perhaps taking a bit of quarterback coaching from her father Kevin, a former football coach at J.J. Kelly.
Mullins matched Womack's output of 22 points, also tallying five steals in her final high school game. She and guard Kayli Bates are the only seniors on the Lady Indians' roster.
Kalen Collins added 13 points for Kelly, getting eight in the fourth quarter.
Brittany Avancini, who added 19 points for Floyd County, played a strong all-around game to complement her scoring output. Lindsey Thompson, the team's leading scorer, had 11.
The game was held at Christiansburg High School, but the environment was anything but neutral. Floyd County partisans outnumbered Kelly supporters at least 3-to-1.
Kelly finished with 35 turnovers to Floyd County's 22, and was outrebounded 39-24.