One moment stood out from the Loudoun County girls basketball team's 59-47 victory over Bruton in Saturday's Group AA tournament quarterfinals at Lafayette High School in Williamsburg.
With 10 seconds left in the game and the Raiders winning by 11 points, Loudoun County junior Stacy James stepped in front of Amber Hallman and tried to draw a charge as the Bruton senior dribbled down the court. James was knocked to the floor and whistled for a blocking foul, but a point had been made.
"Our girls play hard all the way; they don't stop," Loudoun County Coach Bob Pingley said Monday. "I didn't see Stacy today, but I have a feeling she has a black eye from that play."
A likely scenario, considering that James is a 5-foot-5 guard and Hallman is a strongly built 6-2 forward. "I've got the biggest headache," James said after the game. "I didn't even think about what I was doing."
On Friday night at Salem Civic Center, James and her teammates again will step in front of an imposing, hard-charging force and try to hold their ground when the Raiders face Turner Ashby in the Group AA semifinals. The Knights (27-0) are the defending Virginia AA champions and have won 53 consecutive games.
Loudoun County (25-2) is playing in its first state semifinal; the Raiders made their only other appearance in the state tournament in 1996 and lost in the quarterfinals to Louisa. Only one Northwestern District team has played in the Group AA girls basketball final: In 1994, Loudoun Valley lost to Robert E. Lee of Staunton, 54-31.
"Our goal this year was to go further than we did last year, and we did that," James said. Last season, the Raiders lost to Charlottesville in the Region II semifinals. "Then we wanted to try to get further than the team did in '96. We did that. We're just [psyched] to keep going and have the chance to get a new banner for our gym."
The Raiders will face a stiff test in Turner Ashby, a Bridgewater school that has played in the past two Group AA title games. The Knights feature the Region II player of the year, senior Marsha Kinder, a 5-7 sharp-shooting guard who has signed with West Virginia University.
On Nov. 20, Turner Ashby beat Loudoun County, 44-28, in the Region II final. In that game, the Knights built a 21-7 lead early and then held off the Raiders. Senior Marie Bolton, Loudoun County's leading scorer (15.7 ppg) and the Northwestern District player of the year, had the stomach flu but still played against the Knights.
"We know that we can beat them if we play well," said James, who will have the responsibility of guarding Kinder. "When your key player is out, part of your game is missing."
Nothing was missing for the Raiders on Saturday against Bruton, the Region I champion. Loudoun County's pressure defense resulted in 23 steals and several fast-break baskets. Bolton scored a game-high 24 points and added six steals and six rebounds. James scored 11 points and had six steals; junior point guard Tara Kidwell had six points and five steals; and sophomore forward Katie Baldwin, who was hampered by foul trouble, scored 10 points and had five rebounds.
Freshman forward Summer Forsythe (two points and team-high seven rebounds) and junior forward Kim Grimes (four points and three rebounds) stepped up for the Raiders when Baldwin got into foul trouble. Everyone again will need to step up against the Knights on Friday.
"We need to play good, solid defense," Pingley said. "At this time of the season, you don't change a lot. We know what they can do, but they've also seen what we do. Whichever team comes out and executes best will win; it might come down to the last shot."
Loudoun County (25-2)--Kidwell 3 0-3 6, James 3 5-9 11, Bolton 10 3-8 24, Baldwin 5 0-0 10, Forsythe 1 0-2 2, Grimes 2 0-0 4, Kelly 1 0-0 2. Totals: 25 8-22 59.
Bruton (25-3)--Burns 1 0-0 3, Petrin 3 0-0 7, Vest 1 0-0 3, Martin 3 1-4 7, Loudin 3 0-0 6, Hallman 8 5-7 21. Totals: 19 6-11 47.
Halftime: Loudoun County, 29-23.
Three-point goals: LC 1 (Bolton); B 3 (Burns, Petrin, Vest).
Virginia AA Girls Basketball Tournament
When: Semifinals tomorrow: Turner Ashby vs. Loudoun County, 7 p.m.; Virginia vs. Heritage-Lynchburg, 8:30 p.m. Finals on Saturday: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Salem Civic Center, Salem.
Directions: Take Interstate 66 west to Interstate 81 south. From I-81, take Exit 141 and follow the signs toward Salem. From the exit ramp, you will be on Route 419 (Electric Road); go through two traffic lights. After the second light, go over a small bridge and bear right (following the sign toward the Salem Civic Center) onto Texas Street (460 Bypass/Truck Route). Travel one mile to traffic light and turn left onto Boulevard. Civic Center is on the left.
CAPTION: Summer Forsythe dives in for steal against Bruton's Amber Hallman during Raiders' 59-47 win in AA quarterfinals.
CAPTION: Bruton's Mary Loudin, left, tries to defend against junior point guard Tara Kidwell, whose five steals helped Raiders (25-2) gain first state semifinal. Program's only other berth in state tournament came in 1996.
CAPTION: Kim Grimes, from left, Katie Baldwin and Stacy James hope for more celebration when Loudoun County plays Turner Ashby tomorrow in AA semifinals. Defending AA champion Knights have won 53 in a row.