Heavy snow left many seats empty, a stark contrast from the roaring crowd that witnessed the Raiders rally from the brink of defeat for a state volleyball title in November. By the end of Wednesday’s basketball game against Salem, Phillips’s beaming smile had been replaced with teary eyes.
While overachieving had pushed the young Raiders to the final four, subpar shooting from the perimeter and foul line, along with Salem’s suffocating defense, ultimately doomed Loudoun County in a 51-38 loss.
After falling behind by eight points early in the first quarter, the Raiders’ resolve surfaced. Phillips scored seven of her team-high 12 points to spark a run that cut Salem’s lead to 13-10.
While Loudoun County (24-6) was able to respond then, the Raiders couldn’t seem to find an answer for Salem’s Tay Taylor. The Wake Forest-bound senior scored eight of her game-high 24 points in the second quarter. Meantime, the Raiders struggled to capitalize at the foul line, shooting just 3 of 11 in the first half.
“We knew [Taylor] was capable of getting in the paint, going left or right, and we knew it would give us some difficulty,” Raiders Coach Derek Fisher said. “We weren’t surprised by anything they did but they executed very well.”
A Chloe Knox three-pointer cut the deficit to 25-22 early in the third quarter, but the Raiders struggled to produce on offense thereafter, going nearly 10 minutes without a field goal. Taylor and Beth Plympton took advantage for Salem (25-3), combining for 10 straight points during a 23-5 run that spilled into the fourth quarter. On the other end, the Spartans’ aggressive full-court press and 2-3 zone kept the Raiders on the perimeter, where they shot just 2 of 16 from three-point land.
“They are incredibly athletic,” said Phillips, one of two holdovers from County's 2011 state finalist team. “Every single player knows how to read an offense and they all helped on every person’s drive with their hands on you at all times.”
A late surge wasn’t enough to rally the Raiders, but for a team with no seniors, its mere presence in the state semifinals proved satisfying for Fisher.
“It’s hard right now to think about [next year], but this should be something that motivates them,” Fisher said. “We went above and beyond what we thought we could accomplish. . . but now there’s another level for us to get to.”