The Loudoun Valley High School girls basketball team's day began hopefully, with a long drive--111 miles from Purcellville to Charlottesville for a Group AA Region II quarterfinal.

A much shorter drive ended the day, the game and the Vikings' very successful season.

Kandi Merrick took Kristen Barnhill's inbounds pass with 6.2 seconds to play and dribbled through the Vikings' zone defense for a layup as time ran out, lifting the Black Knights to a 47-45 victory. Loudoun Valley finishes with an 18-6 record.

Merrick, one of three 5-foot-4 starters who gave the Vikings fits all game, drove three-quarters of the court for the game-winning layup.

"I didn't want to play any overtime," Merrick said. "I wasn't thinking anything on the play, except I knew they didn't want to foul. And what's the worst thing that could happen to me: I'd get fouled and [have to] make the shots."

After laying it in, Merrick celebrated wildly and ran back to mid-court, where the sophomore finally was captured and mobbed by team members and fans. Loudoun Valley coaches and players were first in a state of shock, then--as they made their way to the locker room--in tears. They said little to anyone and were on the bus 15 minutes after the buzzer.

Merrick's layup put down a spirited comeback by the Vikings. The Black Knights' Shanika Howard gave Charlottesville a 38-32 lead with 6 minutes 37 seconds to play, but seven straight points by forward Valerie Murphy gave Loudoun Valley its first lead. When Murphy sank a free throw after a basket with 4:21 remaining, the Vikings led, 39-38.

The remainder of the game featured three more ties, including a three-pointer by Murphy with eight seconds remaining, before Merrick's drive.

"We always tell our players to go hard [to the basket] in that situation," Black Knights Coach Harry Terrell said. "Even if she doesn't score, we go to overtime."

Charlottesville's full-court press --led by the three-guard attack of Merrick, Howard and Tanesha Hudson--frustrated the taller, but slower Vikings. Loudoun Valley committed 28 turnovers and had particular difficulty in bringing the ball up court and on inbounds plays.

"We were one step quicker to the ball tonight," said Terrell, whose team is trying to get back into the state tournament for a fourth consecutive season. "We overcame their height with our quickness."

The Black Knights (20-4) play Turner Ashby at 8:45 tonight at the James Madison University Convocation Center. The Region II final is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at JMU.

Murphy scored 12 of her team-high 18 points in the second half and Kristen Carlson recorded seven blocked shots before fouling out with 2:41 remaining.

Charlottesville freshman Deatrice Luck led all scorers with 21 points. Luck also had six blocked shots.

Loudoun Valley (18-6)--Livesay 2 4-4 8, Cash 3 0-0 6, McLaughlin 1 0-0 2, Everhart 3 1-2 7, Carlson 2 0-0 4, Murphy 5 7-8 18. Totals 16 12-14 45.

Charlottesville (20-4)--Hudson 1 3-4 5, Merrick 3 2-3 8, Howard 1 2-2 4, Barnhill 2 0-0 4, Luck 6 9-14 21, Coleman 2 1-3 5. Totals 15 17-26 47.

Halftime: Tied at 22.

Three-point goals: Loudoun Valley (Murphy).