RICHMOND — Defense might ultimately win a state championship for the Altavista girls basketball team. But it was free throws that got the Colonels in position to compete for one.
Altavista set team and individual state tournament records at the foul line en route to a 58-46 win over Clintwood in Thursday’s VHSL Group A, Division 1 state semifinal game at VCU’s Siegel Center.
The Colonels, who’ll face East Rockingham in Friday’s title game, shot 42-of-55 from the line as a team, eclipsing 32 free throws sank by Natural Bridge in the 1981 state tournament (there is no state record kept for free throws attempted).
Takara Dews, who finished with 16 points, scored every bit of it on the charity stripe. Her 16 free throws (out of 18 attempts) overtook the 15 made by Kizzie Ashlock of Essex in 1992.
Sydney Morris, a highly athletic 5-foot-11 forward, hit five buckets on her way to a team-leading 17 points. Aside from that, three more field goals were all the Colonels got as a team.
“You don’t expect to make eight field goals and expect to be playing,” said Altavista coach Debra B. Spencer, whose team lost to Covington in last year’s state semifinals.
The Colonels coach noted that her team usually shoots a lot of free throws because of how effectively her posts attack the basket. To the best of her knowledge, her team had never before shot so many during the course of a game.
Clintwood coach Donnie Frazier, who had four players foul out during the course of the game, also thought the number was highly unusual.
“The foul trouble prevented us from playing the kind of defense we wanted to play,” said Frazier, whose team led 35-29 on Kayla Mullins’ layup at 3:55 in the third quarter. “We shoot 25 free throws, they shoot 55. That’s enough said. Maybe they’re a little stronger than we are. But I’m not so sure.”
Even so, Altavista’s 18-for-20 showing at the line that put the game on ice over the final 3:43 of the game was beyond reproach. The Colonels led 41-40 when they initiated stalling tactics and Clintwood started fouling for possession.
Kalia Donigan scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds for Altavista (23-4), providing the spark for her team’s third-quarter comeback.
Mullins scored 17 points to pace the Lady Greenwave (18-10), also corralling eight rebounds and collecting seven steals.
Mullins, a freshman, said she was sorry Clintwood lost, but added that she had three more years to try to win a state championship.
That is also true of guard Ivy Gulley, who had six points, four steals and two assists before picking up her fifth foul.
Clintwood proved that it had the talent to play in the VHSL Final Four. The next logical step is like the one taken by Altavista — developing the maturity to play smarter basketball at the highest level.
The maturing process played a huge role in the Lady Greenwave’s postseason run, Frazier said.
“We were able to mesh our young kids with our junior kids. It took us a while to do that,” said Frazier. “When you’ve started for three years and find two freshmen playing over you, that’s hard to swallow.
“But I think at some point we saw what kind of team we were by watching the film. We were able to realize that if we wanted to win and be part of a team, this is how we do it.”