There was no dishonor in defeat, even one by 35 points. That's the message Coach Bob Pingley wanted to hammer home to his Loudoun County High School girls basketball team after a 68-33 loss to Turner Ashby in the semifinals of the Virginia Group AA tournament at the Salem Civic Center.
"Listen, you're 25-3 this year," Pingley said to his Northwestern District champion squad. "How many other teams are here?"
A few players gave muffled responses. Most looked away.
"There are only three other teams here," Pingley said. "Be proud of yourselves. You had a great season. Go show your parents and go show your fans how proud you are. You're a great team."
At that moment, the Raiders were a bruised and battered team, quite literally. One of them, junior guard Stacy James, had a concussion that caused her to miss the entire second half. Two others, senior guard Marie Bolton and freshman forward Summer Forsythe, were wearing bandages above their eyes to cover cuts that each would require stitches.
Then there was the team's confidence. For the second time in two weeks the Raiders had lost to the Bridgewater school, the defending AA champion who entered the game with a 53-game winning streak. As in that 44-28 loss in the Region II championship, Loudoun County's swirling defense had been rendered ineffective by Turner Ashby, which actually forced the Raiders to play more out of control than usual.
But the Raiders had to play the entire second half without one of their key players, James, who was in pain three minutes into the second quarter after hitting the ground hard. She returned to the game 2 1/2 minutes later, but in the locker room at halftime junior guard Tara Kidwell noticed that James still was experiencing dizziness.
"I was getting everybody excited, going around saying, 'Let's go, let's go,' then I looked over at Stacy and she was shaking," said Kidwell, whose team trailed by just eight at halftime. "She's my best friend, so I started to cry. She was shaking, her eyes were moving around. She didn't look like herself."
So Loudoun County had to start junior forward Kim Grimes, and move sophomore Katie Baldwin--normally a forward--to guard. Bolton had to handle the ball, normally James's duty.
"When you get people out of position, you get out of sync," Bolton said. "You know your position, you know what to expect. Then when you move people, that changes everything."
There were other reasons for the Raiders' struggles. They missed too many easy shots during the first half. They made 15 of 57 field goal attempts for the game, and only 1 of 11 three-pointers.
"If we had hit some shots early, it might have been different," Pingley said. "I don't know how many layups we missed. We might have been up 10 at the half if we had made some."
In fact, Loudoun County had difficulty finding a hot hand. Baldwin led the team with eight points, five below her average, and Bolton--the team's leading scorer with 15 points a game this season--had just seven and made 3 of 18 field goal attempts.
The Raiders also had trouble stopping Turner Ashby senior guard Marsha Kinder, who is headed to West Virginia University next year on a scholarship. She scored a game-high 20 points and hit three shots from beyond the three-point line.
And in the second half senior forward Morgan Johnson had her way inside for the Knights, scoring 13 of her 17 points in that half.
"I think a big key for us in the second half was getting them off the offensive boards," said Turner Ashby Coach Rob Lovell, whose team advanced to the championship game Saturday against Heritage of Lynchburg, which defeated Virginia of Bristol in the other semifinal. "We limited them to one shot. We gave up a lot of second and third shots in the first half, and I wasn't happy about that."
Still, Kidwell took solace in the fact that she would return next year, along with every other player except Bolton.
"We know we could have won," Kidwell said. "We're good enough to be here in the final four."
"Just knowing that I've gone, length-wise, as far as I could, is nice," Bolton said. "But we would've liked to have gone to the championship game. It's very upsetting, when you get this close."
Loudoun County--Kidwell 2 0-0 4, James 1 0-2 2, Bolton 3 0-0 7, Baldwin 4 0-0 8, Forsythe 2 0-0 4, Grimes 2 2-4 6, Kelly 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 2-7 33.
Turner Ashby--Rusmisel 2 1-2 7, Kinder 5 7-8 20, Cline 5 0-0 10, Johnson 8 1-2 17, Sprinkel 0 2-2 2, Reish 1 0-0 3, Bowman 2 0-0 5, Reynolds 1 0-2 2, Stevens 1 0-0 2. Totals 25 11-16 68.
Halftime: Turner Ashby, 28-20.
Three-point goals: Loudoun County 1 (Bolton); Turner Ashby 7 (Kinder 3, Rusmisel 2, Bowman, Reish).