VISAA basketball: Paul VI girls soar to seventh straight title; O’Connell boys fall to Benedictine

Paul VI Catholic’s Ariana Freeman and Liberty Christian’s Raven Jefferson were trading baskets for much of the first quarter during Saturday’s Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association championship, and after the quarter ended it seemed that the game was going to be dictated by the matchup between the two guards.

But by the second quarter, Paul VI put the clamps on Jefferson. Freeman and company, meantime, continued to run wild. Marlena Tremba scored 24 points and Freeman added 21 as the fifth-ranked Panthers routed Liberty Christian, 73-53, to win their seventh consecutive VISAA championship at the Wakefield School in The Plains.

“You want those guys to step up in big games,” Paul VI Coach Scott Allen said. “Ariana has been consistent all season long. . . . It was really good to see Marlena get going today, because I think that kind of opened the game up when she can get the three ball going.”

Using a vicious full-court press, Paul VI (29-4) controlled the tempo for the final 24 minutes. And after a 15-6 run at the end of the second quarter gave the Panthers a 43-29 halftime advantage, Tremba took over. She scored 10 points in the third quarter, including two three-pointers; at one point, she and Freeman combined for six points in less than 10 seconds off steals in the Liberty Christian backcourt to take a commanding 57-38 lead.

“I was kind of a little bit off, like in the WCAC playoffs,” Tremba said, “so I thought it was really nice to finally get my shot back.”

Freeman and Jefferson (13 points) each had 11 in a hotly contested first quarter. But Paul VI’s pressure was able to disrupt Jefferson for the rest of the night. She didn’t score again until the 1-minute 55-second mark of the fourth quarter — and the Bulldogs never regained their offensive rhythm. By the final moments of the fourth quarter, Allen emptied his bench.

“I thought it was a great way to end our season. This is our seventh championship in a row,” said Tremba, who is committed to play at William & Mary. “All the seniors got to play, and we’ve been playing together for three or four years. So that was a great way to end.”

BENEDICTINE 62, O’CONNELL 56: In the VISAA Division I boys’ championship, Benedictine held off O’Connell in Petersburg, Va.

Benedictine tailed 26-25 at halftime but took a 42-41 lead at the end of the third. O’Connell (27-7) led by six in the fourth quarter, but the Cadets overcame the deficit, aided by timely three-point shooting and an intentional foul call on O’Connell with less than two minutes to play.

It was the sixth game in eight days for the Knights, who won their first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title since 2004 on Tuesday with a 58-53 victory over St. John’s. O’Connell went 5-1 during that stretch, with four of those games decided by five points or fewer.

“It was our sixth game in eight days, and you could tell,” O’Connell Coach Joe Wootten said by phone. “I couldn’t be more proud of their efforts. We’ve won so many clutch games in that stretch.”

Roman Stubbs covers the University of Maryland athletics for The Washington Post.
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