RICHMOND — After Wise Central’s 56-41 win over Clarke County in Friday‘s Group A, Division 2 state semifinals, Lady Warriors coach Robin Dotson seemed absolutely placid.
Behind him lay all the excitement of VCU’s Siegel Center. In front of him lay the fourth state championship game appearance of his coaching career. Outwardly, Dotson appeared as centered and serene as the refrain from John Lennon’s “Across The Universe.” Nothing was going to change his world.
“I didn’t think we shot the ball very well. This is one of our lesser offensive performances of the year. But I thought we gutted it out. When we needed a basket, we got a basket,” Dotson calmly reflected.
Wise Central (28-1) will face Floyd County (27-2) in today’s 3 p.m. state championship game. Dotson led J.J. Kelly to state title appearances in 1998 and 2000, winning it all in 2002.
The defensive game plan Dotson drew up for Clarke County was anything but sedate. It had zero calming effect on the Eagles. They were taken out of their offense. They were taken out of their comfort zone. Serenity? That was taken, too.
“They pressured us and the past few teams we played were in zone. I don’t think we were used to that kind of pressure,” said Clarke County guard Rachel Sefton. “We got really flustered when their guards came up and pressured us as they did. They had a really good defensive game against us. Part of that was their defense and part of it was us making bad passes because we were so flustered.”
The Eagles committed 34 turnovers. Given that Wise had 20 steals as a team, it is safe to say it was mostly because of the Lady Warriors’ defense. Logan Reynolds, who led the team with seven steals, picked up three steals in the opening minutes of the game as Central jumped out to an 11-3 lead.
Hayley Wyrick scored 27 points to pace the Lady Warriors. Its offense might’ve been in tatters, but Clarke County knew who Wyrick was and what she did and tried its utmost to stop her. Wyrick shot 0-for-4 outside the arc, otherwise fighting her way to the hoop with single-minded abandon.
“She had a great game. I knew she was going to be a tough matchup for us. You really don’t realize how good she is until you’re on the court with her. She’s so physical. She does so many things well for them,” said Clarke County coach Tim Lawrence, who noted that in a game where “every possession is precious,” Wyrick was one of several Lady Warriors who beat his team out of too many 50-50 balls.
The Eagles got a little physical with her in turn. Wyrick took it all in stride.
“I would say they’re letting us play a little bit. We’re just rolling with the punches. Even if we’re not getting the calls, we’re going to keep going to the paint and going up strong,” said Wyrick, who went 5-for-7 at the free throw line and grabbed seven rebounds.
Laura Gipe had a double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down 11 rebounds for the Lady Warriors, also collecting four steals. Reynolds had something to show for herself all across the score sheet. In addition to the steals, she had 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and a shot block.
Reagan Davis shot 0-for-5 from the field and went scoreless, but had a solid defensive outing. She also handled the ball for Central while Reynolds sat out for a while in foul trouble during the second half.
Sydney Chrane scored 13 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to lead the Eagles (23-7). Becky Smith scored 11 points and Anna Blue Catlett contributed 10 points and hauled in seven rebounds.
Floyd County got 23 points from Carley Lytton in Friday’s 78-67 win over George Mason. The Buffaloes also had 20 steals while engineering 33 Mustangs turnovers. Floyd County beat Gate City 74-44 at Salem last week.
Wise Central couldn’t have hoped for a bigger challenge, or a better stage for it.
“I think we all know how big a game this is,” Wyrick said. “Frankly, we all came to win. So we’re going to leave everything out on the floor.”