BRISTOL, Va. — Defense wins championships and big players make big plays in big games.
Both statements are cliches, but they’re also true. J.I. Burton’s girls basketball team proved that while beating Ervinton 53-44 to capture the Region D, Division 1 championship on Saturday at Virginia High.
Brianna Stallard connected on a huge 3-pointer to give Burton the lead for good with 3:57 remaining in the third quarter, and the Lady Raiders held Ervinton without a field goal for the final 5:31 of the fourth to secure the victory.
The game was tied at 34 when Stallard caught an inbounds pass and made the crucial 3-pointer. She also came up with a layup less than a minute later to push the lead to five points.
“We knew that opposite corner was open,” Burton coach Mike Goforth said. “She’s a senior and she hit a big shot.”
Stallard’s 3-pointer triggered a 10-1 Burton run, leaving the Lady Rebels nine points behind. But they climbed back into the game behind Kelly Rasnick’s heroics and trailed by just two points after Kim Hill’s layup with 5:31 to go.
The Lady Raiders tightened up on defense, however, and scored nine of the game’s final 11 points.
“It seems like we never could get over that hump,” Ervinton coach Jason Edwards said. “We went cold there in the fourth quarter. I know we missed 10 or 11 in a row there — we could not buy a bucket.”
Rasnick scored 23 points to lead the Lady Rebels, and her baskets came in big spots. After Burton took control with an 13-2 run early in the second quarter, Rasnick came up with 11 points in the period to pull the Lady Rebels to within six at the break.
“She’s a tough player,” Goforth said of Rasnick. “No matter the score, she doesn’t change her expression. Any player like that is dangerous — she’s focused and she doesn’t get rattled easily.”
By the fourth quarter, however, Ervinton was unable to answer Burton’s final push. Trailing by two, the Lady Rebels had a pair of 3-pointers dance around the rim before falling harmlessly away.
Moments later, Ra’Shelle Miller made a steal and took the ball coast to coast for a layup that gave Burton a 49-43 lead along with some breathing room.
Miller finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four steals for the Lady Raiders (26-0). Stallard also had 15 points while Sheniqua Woods added eight rebounds and five steals.
Chelsea Hill scored 10 points for Ervinton (23-4).
Both teams advanced to this week’s VHSL Group A tournament, which Edwards said is a silver lining.
“I hate that we lost, but the good thing about winning (last) Thursday is that we live to fight another day,” he said. “Whoever we play, we’ll try to be ready for them.”