None of the Loudoun Valley High School girls basketball players went into Thursday night's Virginia AA Northwestern District tournament trying to be a hero, but each came out looking like one.
Ultimately, No. 3 seed Vikings' indefatigable ability to get the ball to 6-foot center Kristen Carlson and 5-11 forward Valerie Murphy--who finished with 23 and 13 points, respectively--proved pivotal.
The strategy gave Valley a 61-57 win over second-seeded Liberty in a district tournament semifinal at Potomac Falls. Loudoun Valley played against Loudoun County for the title last night.
"We all looked out for each other and worked as a team," Vikings Coach Carmel Keilty said, "and our play inside--especially in the second half--was big."
The Eagles kept the score close until the end, as Liberty center Krystal Hermes's free throw tied the game at 55 with 1 minute 34 seconds remaining.
At that point, Keilty reminded her players to stick to their plan of creating opportunities in the low post.
"I kept it simple," she said of the last-minute message. "I told them to keep doing what they've been doing."
Loudoun Valley did just that, strategically passing around the perimeter until Carlson got open. Though the pass to her was partially deflected, Murphy picked up the loose ball and was fouled while making a layup that gave the Vikings a 57-55 lead.
"We knew we had to make our presence around the basket felt," Murphy said.
She missed the free throw, but another foul put teammate Holly Everhart back at the line--she made both of hers.
The Eagles continued to hang tough, as Hermes converted on a put-back to close it to 59-57 with 36.6 seconds left. Then they forced the Vikings into a 10-second violation and got the ball back with 26 seconds left.
But after Liberty spread its offense to set up a three-pointer, Loudoun Valley's Michelle McLaughlin read a play designed for Jennifer Gray--the Eagles' top long-range threat--and intercepted a pass Gray was set to receive in the corner beyond the arc. McLaughlin immediately gave the ball to Carlson, who was fouled with 2.9 seconds left to preserve the win.
"We really wanted this game tonight," said Keilty, whose team had to settle for playing in the tournament's consolation game last year. ". . . I like the way we are playing right now. We are playing with a lot of pride."
Said Carlson: "This was a huge win. We came in here expecting to win, but we also knew we had to work hard as a team to beat Liberty."
Liberty (18-4)--Fones 6 2-3 14, Tapscott, 4 1-2 10, Olinger 4 0-0 10, Hudson 1 1-2 3, Gray 3 2-4 10, Sherman 0 2-2 2, Hermes 3 2-4 8. Totals: 21 10-17 57.
Loudoun Valley (18-4)--Livesay 2 0-2 4, Cash 3 2-2 8, McLaughlin 1 1-2 4, Everhart 2 5-7 9, Carlson 10 3-7 23, Murphy 5 3-8 13. Totals: 23 14-28 61.
Halftime: Loudoun Valley, 31-24.
Three-point goals: Liberty 5 (Gray 2, Olinger 2, Tapscott 1); Loudoun Valley 1 (McLaughlin 1).