It’s amazing what one can learn from watching pre-game warm-ups.
Forty-five minutes before last night’s Region I Division 4 Girls basketball championship game at Grafton, while her teammates stretched under the basket, Morgan Heath walked out to a point on the left wing, 40 feet away from the basket and breezily swished a jumper. She then dribbled to the opposite side of the court and swished another 40-footer from the right wing. Later, Rose Mulherin worked five points from outside the three point arc, reminiscent of the NBA three-point shooting contest and practiced her far outside jumpers. The left wing shot seemed particularly favorable.
Imagine if one of them had to shoot an important long jumper.
Fast forward to the last ten seconds of the first half. The Clippers, down 19-16, had been worked over by a Cyclone team that lived up to its nickname. The visitors from Culpeper left little doubt that it was the same team that defeated heavily favored Courtland in the semi-finals. The team showed little fear, whether it was diving for loose balls, wrestling for rebounds or sprinting back down the court to thwart a Clipper fast break. Mulherin, in particular, had one breakaway shot blocked by a hustling Cycloner, much to the delight of the 100 or so fans who made the four-hour drive from northwest Virginia.
As the clock ticked down, the Clippers were about to head into the locker room having not held the lead at all, and in jeopardy or seeing their undefeated home season end.
Not so fast.
Mulherin dribbled up the left side as the clock wound down…four…three…two. At one, the junior guard found herself about 40 feet from the basket, in roughly the same spot that Heath had drained a jumper about an hour earlier. Barely stopping to set, she let one fly.
As the home crowd roared, the Grafton players and coaches jumped up and down and the team ran into the locker room, tied at 19 and ready to play with a renewed sense of purpose.
As for her long-range shot, as well as Heath’s, Mulherin said it’s something they do “as fun in practice.” However, she added, “it gave us a boost of confidence and we were able to turn it around. It helped loosen us up because we were tense. We weren’t shooting very well up to that point.”
Coach Tommy Bayse agreed.
“A big momentum thing was hitting that three at the half. It kind of got us excited as we went out.”
There was confidence in the Clipper locker room at halftime.
Added Mulherin, “It made us realize that they’re just a team, they’re just people.”
Early in the second half, Mulherin’s three-pointer from the left wing, exactly from the same spot she was hitting from before the game, gave the Lady Clippers their first lead of the game at 24-22.
Without question, the Cyclones matched up physically with the usually powerful Grafton team.
“Numbers 33 (Taylor Shanks) and 25 (Courtney Shanks) are real physical and they hurt us on the boards,” said Bayse.
Taylor Shanks was an unstoppable force inside, leading her team with 18 points, many coming from her own offensive rebounds. On defense, she held Olivia Wilson, who had averaged 21.3 points over the past three games, to four points. Shanks’ sister was scoreless, but tenacious on defense. One example of this ended up putting Grafton in the lead for good.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Cyclones leading 33-32, Courtney Shanks grabbed a defensive rebound and was quickly surrounded by a trio of Clipper defenders. In her attempt to get away she clutched the ball in her hands while swinging her elbows side to side. One caught Grafton’s Hannah Olson in the side of the head and the freshman fell backwards, eventually banging her head on the floor. As Shanks was called for a flagrant foul, Olson was awarded two foul shots, which she calmly made to give her team the lead.
On the ensuing possession, Wilson caught the inbounds pass under the basket and laid in what would be her only field goal of the game. However, it gave Grafton a 36-33 lead, a lead they would not relinquish despite several spirited runs by Eastern View, who were down 40-39 with 59 seconds left before Tiffany Shanks fouled the Clippers’ Savannah Baxley.
With the game on the line, Baxley drained both free throws, a sequence which Bayse called “the other turning point of the game. I don’t know how many she scored (four), but those were two of the biggest ones.”
From there, the home team ran out the clock and the celebration began. Riding the crest of an 10-game winning streak as well as completing a perfect season at home (16-0), it was easy to agree with Bayse’s final comment.
“I hate to leave this floor.”
Wilson did a fine job of summing up her team’s season to date as they prepare for the state tournament.
“It’s so unreal. We were picked to finish ninth in the district, but we came together as a team. We had doubts with ourselves, but we started winning and started to flow together and we started winning more and more and our confidence went up and everything started going right.”
The Clippers (24-3) will not have to travel far for their next game, playing against the Region II runner-up next weekend at Kaplan Arena on the campus of William and Mary.
EASTERN VIEW (17-9) 10 9 11 9 – 39
GRAFTON (24-3) 4 15 11 12 – 42
Eastern View – C. Jackson 6, Bowles 4, Mills 6, Mauck 3, T. Jackson 2, T. Shanks 18. Team 14 9-13 39. Three pointers (Mills 2).
Grafton – Heath 7, Mulherin 15, Brown 6, Olson 6, Wilson 4, S. Baxley 4. Team 14 11-18 42. Three pointers (Mulherin 3).