The more Alex Marquis went to the free throw line in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Virginia Conference 5 girls’ basketball final, the more nervous she became.
Foul shots are normally a forte for Marquis and her teammates, but as the Cougars missed 13 of their final 23 free throws and No. 14 Centreville sliced into their lead, Marquis wondered if Oakton’s inexperience was catching up to them.
Ultimately, the point guard of Oakton’s youngest team in 12 years ensured that her play overshadowed her nerves, countering her misses with seven makes, including the decisive foul shot with 20 seconds left in overtime, to lift the No. 19 Cougars to the title with a 48-47 victory in Chantilly.
“I was nervous and I missed a few, but it just made me play harder on defense,” said Marquis, who finished with 12 points. “We’ve grown up over the season and worked hard and it worked out for us tonight.”
Oakton used strong offensive rebounding to build an early lead, but the second quarter brought cause for concern. The Cougars went nearly six minutes without a field goal, allowing the Wildcats (20-4) to surge back into contention behind the inside play of Chrissy Jacksta (16 points).
But for each Centreville run, the Cougars (22-2) had an answer, tallying four three-pointers in the second quarter to stay in control.
Up to that point, Oakton’s swarming defense had held Conference 5 player of the year Jenna Green in check. But as Jacksta drew more attention inside, Green (14 points) and Ailyn Kelly found space to score, culminating with a Kelly layup that briefly gave Centreville the lead in the final seconds of regulation.
“When our free throws weren’t falling, I don’t want to say I was concerned, but we just had to take a deep breath as a team and relax,” Oakton Coach Fred Priester said. “We hit just enough to pull it out.”
First, Brandon Alston tried to dribble through his legs. Then the Herndon senior transfer attempted a crossover, followed by a hard drive to his left. Both moves were thwarted by a Robinson defender, leading Rams fans to cheer loudly after having watched Alston pick apart the Rams in the previous three quarters Friday in Chantilly.
Unfazed, Alston swung the ball to Dorian Johnson, who made a quick move into the lane and layed up a basket that gave the No. 13 Hornets enough breathing room to close out the win a 79-67 win for the Conference 5 crown.
The tandem of Johnson, the conference player of the year, and Alston, playing in his third game with the Hornets after transferring from New Jersey last month, proved too much for the Rams (18-6), as the versatile duo scored 18 points apiece.
“When I came here, they needed me to play point guard some and distribute the ball,” said Alston, who previously played at Paul VI and Middleburg Academy. “But tonight, we were down, so I looked for my shot more.”
Alston’s three to start the second half sparked a 23-9 Herndon run, turning a three-point halftime deficit into the Hornets’ (21-2) sixth consecutive win.