SALEM, Va. — They have been known to hold rodeos at the Salem Civic Center. As a happy coincidence, Friday’s VHSL Division 1 state quarterfinal game was not Castlewood girls basketball coach Barry Ruff’s first one.
In an upset nobody expected, the team nobody expected to be there upended Covington 52-47, sending the Lady Blue Devils to the Group A Final Four in Richmond for the first time in Ruff’s career.
“It took me 10 years to get to Richmond. I told them all year long, we’ve had a lot of good talent. But this team is unbelievable the way they step up. The components we have. The shots we hit. The people who step up at different times,” said Ruff, whose team will take on either East Rockingham or Charles City at 11 a.m. Thursday inside Virginia Commonwealth’s Siegel Center. The tipoff will mark the Castlewood girls’ first Final Four appearance since 1987.
In Friday’s Division 2 quarterfinal game, the Gate City girls team everybody expected to get back to Richmond got stampeded by a deep and powerful Floyd County squad, 74-44.
Castlewood (21-6) may be the surprise team of this year’s D1 bracket, but Lady Blue Devils sophomore post Caitlyn Fleming can’t expect to sneak up on anyone from here on out after Friday’s performance. The 5-foot-10 center scored 22 points and hauled in an epic 20 rebounds that astonished even Ruff when he saw the official tally.
“Holy cow! Holy cow, I didn’t know she had that many!” he said. “Man, this is definitely her breakout game. What a girl. What a girl!”
At least as significant as that monster double-double was Fleming’s contributions to shutting down Lady Cougars post Leteashia Clarke while helping to lure her into foul trouble. The 5-11 Clarke, who blocked seven shots, had seven rebounds but had scored zero points when she picked up her fifth foul going over Korey Purtee’s back for a rebound with less than a minute to play.
“We both had four fouls at the same time, so at the end we were kind of in the same boat. But when she got that fifth foul, I was pretty happy,” said Fleming, who also blocked two shots.
Having to spend tense minutes on the bench while Ruff conserved his star post for crunch time was tough on Fleming, but her teammates ably held the fort.
Clarke’s foul trouble was nothing less than an albatross hanging around the neck of the Lady Cougars.
Guard Sa’Mone Moore fired up 17 points and pulled down eight boards to lead Covington (22-5). Autumn Phillips and Bailey Hall added 13 points apiece. It wasn’t enough to compensate for Clarke’s scoring vacuum.
“We kind of go as far as Leteashia takes us. You really know what you’re going to get from Sa’Mone night in and night out, but Leteashia can get into foul trouble, which she did tonight. She’s a kid who’s going to give you everything she’s got. And if she fouls out, she fouls out,” said crestfallen Covington coach Mark Pifer, who led the Lady Cougars to a state runner-up finish last season.
Haley Crabtree and Purtee, both of whom hit free throws in the final minute to keep Covington at bay, finished with eight points apiece. McKinley Isaacs had seven rebounds to go with seven points.
“I like being the underdog because nobody is expecting anything out of you. It’s kind of a bigger thing if you win. I like that,” said Purtee, who had 13 rebounds. “I think (the Lady Cougars) came in just thinking they were going to win. Sometimes, that can be your downfall.”
Gate City was by no means guilty of hubris. Those Lady Blue Devils were well aware of the challenge that lay ahead prior to Friday’s meeting. It’s just that the Lady Buffaloes’ sheer physical reality was enough to unravel their best-laid plans.
“We knew we had to focus on taking care of the ball. In practice this week, that’s all we’ve preached. We’ve had guys in, going against boys and men trying to simulate the pressure we were going to see tonight,” said Gate City coach Kelly Houseright, who led her team into the state finals last year. “We were prepared. But in the end, it didn’t look like it.”
Gate City committed 33 turnovers to Floyd County’s 29, a differential that was even more telling in the light of the Buffs 20 steals to the Lady Devils’ 11. Floyd County had 45 rebounds to Gate City’s 34, boasting six players with five or more boards. The Buffs distributed 20 assists to the Devils’ eight.
Amanda Hollandsworth scored 13 points to lead Floyd County (26-2), which got a lot of people involved in the offense. Christene Phillips scored 12 with four assists and Carley Lytton added 11 points, dishing it out for five assists. Maria Kuchenbuch chipped in nine points. Emily Boothe had seven points, six rebounds and five assists.
“They beat and bang on each other every day. They lift weights really hard in the offseason and condition themselves. They pride themselves on being tough, physical kids,” said Floyd County assistant coach Travis Cantrell. “There are enough of them that if somebody gets tired, we can bring somebody else in.”
Houseright agreed the Buffs’ muscle wore on her squad in the long run, but she thought her team accelerated its own fatigue by making poor decisions with the ball when fighting through Floyd’s full-court pressure.
“We were just panicking with the ball. We weren’t meeting our passes. We had people running away from the ball instead of coming to the ball. That’s just fundamental stuff we know how to do. We just didn’t do it,” Houseright said. “They manhandled us pretty much the whole game. And we absorbed it. I felt like in the first quarter we did a good job, but after that we were shell-shocked.”
Morgan Gose scored 21 points to lead the Lady Blue Devils (17-13), also collecting five steals. Jordan Gose, who shot 1-for-10 from the field and finished with five points, led Gate City on the boards with eight rebounds. Jordan Houseright grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots.
The Lady Buffs will face either George Mason or Northumberland at 10:30 a.m. on Friday at the Siegel Center.
The Lady Blue Devils will return all of their starters next season.
“My hope is that we seize the moment, get in the gym, get in the weight room and make ourselves better athletes,” Houseright said.