BRISTOL, Va. — A picture of the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University hangs in the office of Mike Goforth, the J.I. Burton girls basketball coach. It represents the intended destination of the Lady Raiders — and a goal set on the very first day of practice.
On Saturday afternoon, Burton clinched a trip to that coveted venue.
J.I. Burton defeated Narrows 49-33 in the Group A, Division 1 quarterfinals, advancing to next week’s VHSL Final Four on the VCU campus.
The undefeated Lady Raiders, who ended the regular season as the top-ranked Group A team in the state, will face Riverheads in the semifinals Thursday.
“At this point and time, we’re not No. 1. We’re tied for fourth,” Goforth said. “Everybody’s vying for No. 1 right now.”
A combination of pressure defense and tenacious offensive rebounding carried Burton (27-0) into the round of four. The Lady Raiders forced 17 turnovers and collected 20 offensive rebounds. Sixteen of those boards had been tallied by the 6:20 mark of the third quarter.
“I think we took 14 3-pointers in the first half. We’re a layup team,” Goforth said. “We’ve got to attack, make layups, make easy shots. Because they were leaving us open, they really were. I think we did a better job getting out and running on them.”
And Burton ran away from Narrows in the second half. Though the Lady Raiders never trailed, Narrows remained within striking distance for the entire second half. The Green Wave trailed 18-10 at the break, and scored the first basket of the third quarter.
Then Burton took off, putting together an 8-0 run that encompassed just over a minute on the game clock. Brianna Stallard got things going with a putback. Ra’Shelle Miller followed with three consecutive buckets, and the Lady Raiders seized a 26-12 advantage.
Burton led by at least three possessions for the remainder of the game.
Miller scored a game-high 13 points and grabbed 16 rebounds despite combating foul trouble throughout the final three quarters. Her point total included three field goals — and none in the first half. Iris Hill added 12 points, including nine in the second half.
“Iris is really good. She’s coming into her own. She’s just a sophomore but she’s smooth,” Goforth said. “And if you notice, she never changes her expression. That makes you a dangerous person.”
Chelsea Forney added eight points and Stallard six. Jocelyn James added four on a pair of second-quarter buckets while Miller sat with two fouls.
“We concentrated defensively on (Miller) and the inside game. We probably took their guards a little too lightly,” Narrows coach Wayne Gautier said.
The Lady Raiders drove home the notion that Burton basketball isn’t just a one-girl show.
“It’s not just one person that’s good. We all came to play basketball. Play as a team and win as a team,” Hill said. “Everybody’s ready to play. Nobody’s trying to take it for granted.”
Especially now that Burton is headed to the Final Four.
The Lady Raiders’ game with Riverheads is scheduled for an 11 a.m. tipoff on Thursday.