As a center, Susan Stone does not play a big role in James Monroe's ferocious full-court press. But the junior can tell when it is working as opposing players slow down, opposing offenses break apart and the momentum turns in the Yellow Jackets' favor.

That certainly was the case in today's Virginia Group A semifinal against Region B champion Altavista (25-4), as James Monroe rode its defense to a 61-56 victory and a berth in Saturday's final against the Glenvar-J.J. Kelly winner.

The score was tied after three quarters, but with a swarm of Yellow Jackets blanketing Altavista's ball-handlers on every possession, the tide slowly turned in the fourth. James Monroe (27-1) made 11 second-half steals, neutralized Altavista's significant height advantage and scored a bushel of fast-break points off turnovers.

When the defensive pressure is effective, other teams "stop moving, they start holding the ball, they don't know where to pass," said Stone, who made two key fourth-quarter baskets and finished with six points and five rebounds. "As they slog off, we get better, we play harder, we get into it."

Underclassmen paced James Monroe's final charge: Sophomore Alicia McMorris (18 points) and freshman Sherri Washington (10) combined to score the Yellow Jackets' first 11 points in the final quarter.

"I just started high school not too long ago," said Washington, who marveled at the spacious Salem Civic Center. "I feel like I'm in the WNBA."

For the second straight game, the Yellow Jackets rallied from a halftime deficit, this time 27-21.

But they quickly pulled ahead on a three-pointer by senior Lisa Tracy (team-high 19 points, team-high eight rebounds), and the Colonels began to tire.

"We play the first half to get to the second half," James Monroe Coach Julian Bumbrey said.

Patriots Are Off-Balance

Park View junior guard Jennifer Eppard got off to a quick start and never cooled down in today's Virginia AA girls' basketball semifinal against R.E. Lee-Staunton.

But the Patriots, who pride themselves on their balanced offensive attack, struggled to find another weapon and fell to Lee, 50-44. The win gave Lee a berth in Saturday's state final.

Eppard finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but the rest of the Patriots (26-2) made only 10 of 30 field goal attempts.

"We were asking her to do too much, and we didn't get enough people involved in the offense in the second half," Park View Coach Larry Simms said. "We got a little bit behind and we didn't execute our offense, that's the bottom line."

Park View's last three losses, dating from last season, have come against the same team. Lee eliminated Park View from last year's Region II semifinals and handed the Patriots their only previous loss this season in the region final.

Lee "had a really good defensive game," said Park View junior forward Monica Butts, the AA Dulles District player of the year. "I think we were just too excited and too nervous. If we had calmed down we could have made every shot, because our offense is unbelievably good."

Payback for Park View seemed a distinct possibility in the fast-paced, low-scoring first half that included five ties and seven lead changes. Eppard scored 13 first-half points, and the half-court, high-contact style seemed to favor Park View, which had not shied away from physical play en route to its 21-0 regular season record.

But in the second-half, Lee (29-1) began making its three-pointers, and Park View went cold, scoring only four third-quarter points. Lee took a 37-28 lead into the final quarter, and its reliable ball-handling foiled Park View's trapping, pressure defense.

All hands are at work as R.E. Lee-Staunton's Kristen Crawford, left, and Lindsay Rupert, right, battle Monica Butts of Park View for a rebound.