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Natalie Butler piles up stats as Lake Braddock edges T.C. Williams in overtime

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It’s not yet the postseason, or even senior night, but the Lake Braddock girls’ basketball players are already in reflective mode. After winning 56-54 in overtime at T.C. Williams on Tuesday night, the Bruins posed for pictures in front of the scorer’s table, a sea of smiling purple flanked by T.C. Williams signage.

Why not stop to savor? Lake Braddock swept the Titans this regular season after losing to them 12 straight times, and the Bruins have won 10 of their last 11 games headed into the finale Friday.

Better yet, the Virginia AAA Patriot District tournament will be played on the Bruins’ home court.

With Coach Leigh Janis out on maternity leave, first-year Lake Braddock assistant John Giannelli, a former Centreville assistant, has guided the team the past four games. The Bruins have continued to win despite the adjustment.

“He had a talk with us the first day and told us we’re going to be a district championship team,” said Lake Braddock senior center Natalie Butler, who had 29 points and 24 rebounds Tuesday in helping the team rally from five down with three minutes left, tying the game with 41 seconds left in regulation. “That’s the way we’ve come out every game and looked at it so far.”

“Bigger, better, faster, stronger — that’s what we’ve got to think,” Giannelli said. “And for the last two weeks, the girls think it. You can see in practice, you can see in games. They’re full of confidence. They believe in each other.”

That showed in overtime. Lake Braddock (14-5, 10-3) went up one on a free throw by junior Aryn Burrage. T.C. Williams senior Baylee Simpson scored at the other end. Butler then scored off a pass from junior Caitlyn Mandela to put the Bruins back on top before junior Angie Schedler hit a three-pointer to give the Titans a 50-48 lead.

After the teams traded free throws, Mandela again found Butler inside to tie the game. Junior Betsy Gallier hit two foul shots with 55 seconds left to inch Lake Braddock into the lead. The teams traded single free throws again, and Butler hit two more for a 56-52 edge.

T.C. Williams (13-8, 10-3) scored just before the buzzer for the final margin. Sophomore guard Rejoice Spivey led the Titans with 26 points and six steals.

For the Bruins, it was a satisfying ending to a game in which Lake Braddock missed 10 of its first 12 shots and T.C. Williams missed 12 of its first 13, with both teams having an opportunity to win late in regulation. The Titans’ guards scored several baskets off steals near midcourt, but the Bruins were able to take care of the ball late in the game.

The 6-foot-4 Butler, a Georgetown recruit who averages 20 more points than the next-closest teammate, blocked seven shots Tuesday, erasing mistakes on both ends of the floor. In the last win over T.C. Williams, she had 40 points and 31 rebounds.

“You know even if you miss it she’s going to have your back,” said Gallier, who scored 11 points. “It’s great having someone really tall on your team like her.”

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