Gate City forward Ashton Bishop (12) is surrounded by Clarke County's Sarah Chrane, left, Brecklyn Bodkin (10) and Maddie Crosby, right, during the Lady Blue Devils' VHSL Group A girls semfinal Thursday at Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center in Richmond. Photo by Lisa Billings.
RICHMOND - The script was the same, the final act much different.
Led by Taylor Warner's 19 second-half points, Clarke County rallied to upend defending champion Gate City 50-37 in Thursday night's VHSL Group A girls state semifinals at the Siegel Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
The victory by the Lady Eagles (25-4) avenged last year's 56-41 loss to the Lady Blue Devils in the state final and propelled them into Saturday's championship game against top-ranked Floyd County (27-0).
In the 2006 final, Gate City made a halftime adjustment that shut down Clarke County's offense and ultimately led the Lady Devils to the state title. On this night it was the Lady Eagles who made all the right moves.
Trailing 24-21 at the start of the third quarter, Clarke County came out of the locker room a different team. Extending their defense to the perimeter, the Lady Eagles completely stymied the Lady Blue Devils' offense and went on a 12-0 run to move on top 33-24.
"It wasn't so much what we did as a team," said Clarke County coach Tim Lawrence. "Individually the girls just all stepped up in the second half and really played without any fear. I think that was the difference.''
It didn't help that Gate City's leading scorer Haley Odle went to the bench with her fourth foul just 19 seconds into the third period. With Odle on the bench, the Lady Devils (25-4) seemed to lose their anchor. Unable to withstand Clarke County's full-court pressure, they turned over the ball six times and didn't score a basket until there was 1:26 left in the third frame.
During the third period, Warner, who had scored just two first-half points, grabbed the spotlight. She scored nine points in the quarter and almost single-handedly lifted her team to a 36-26 advantage.
"Foul trouble in the first half kept me from playing the way I wanted and I was on the bench some,'' said Warner. "In the second half I just didn't want this to be my last game. I had to play as hard as I could.''
A mini-run late in the period helped Gate City narrow the deficit to 36-30 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Warner hit six free throws in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter and Clarke County expanded its lead to 42-30.
Gate City head coach Hugh Godsey could wait no longer and returned Odle to the floor. She immediately hit a pair of buckets and closed the gap to 42-34.
Lawrence called a timeout with 4:05 left and settled his team down. The Lady Eagles began to milk the clock and outscored the Lady Devils 8-3 down the stretch to seal the precious victory.
"We knew coming into this game how great a team Gate City was,'' said Lawrence. "They have been a great champion and defended their title like champions should.
"But in the second half we got in the passing lanes and defended much better. We had the hunger tonight like Gate City had last year. In the end that proved to be what won this game for us.''
Three straight trips to the VHSL Final Four, two finals and a state championship are the legacy of this Gate City senior class.
"Foul trouble hurt us, obviously,'' said Godsey. "But the thing that concerned up most coming into this game was their pressure.
"In the first half we handled it well, in the second it really bothered us. Give credit to Clarke County, they put is in the position we were in.''
The loss doesn't diminish what Gate City has accomplished over the last three years.
"Losing the game isn't the hard part," added Godsey. "Not getting to coach these seniors again is the toughest part."
Warner finished with 21 points and nine rebounds for Clarke County while Maddie Crosby added 11.
Haley Odle led the Lady Devils with 15 points.