Learning toughness and a never-give-up attitude from regular season life in the best girls basketball district in Virginia, the Midlothian Trojans overcame spending more time playing from behind than enjoying a lead, calmly executing when it mattered most to defeat Loudoun County 55-51 Thursday afternoon in the 4A Girls Basketball State Semifinals at the Siegel Center in Richmond.
Zhara Tannor scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second half, continuing to be aggressive offensively even after picking up four personal fouls, her high school career on the line with each dribble, each penetration. Tina Lindenfeld, who sat much of the first half with two fouls, then picked up her third late in the second quarter, overcame that for the second game in a row to score eleven points. Cara Averette also added eleven.
Speaking of eleven, the Trojans missed their first eleven shots from the field as the Raiders took an early 7-0 lead on Midlothian. Tannor attributed the cold start to the nerves that accompany playing on such a big stage. Averette finally got the Trojans on the board with a three-pointer with 2:48 left in the first quarter, and, by quarter's end, it was 10-10.
Head Coach Adam Layton said after the game the loss of Lindenfeld less than three minutes in certainly forces team adjustments, and credited the play of freshman Nia Lloyd, who had two points and an assist in six minutes, still critical play for a Trojans team again trying to keep up with a high-quality team without the inside force in the game. Lindenfeld played with foul trouble much of the night Monday in Midlothian's 4A South Region Championship win over Monacan.
A Tannor basket gave the Trojans their only lead of the first half to start the second quarter. Loudoun County responded with a 16-9 the rest of the way to lead 26-21 at intermission. Elizabeth Gianelos led the Raiders with 15 first-half points, forcing the Trojans to make defensive adjustments at halftime. Having the length of Lindenfeld back in the paint in the second half helped as well, as Gianelos was held scoreless.
Gabrielle Gillis stepped up from the outside, scoring 14 of her 16 points in the second half. But it was Tannor who took the game into her hands, even after committing her fourth foul with 3:44 left. She had six points, a rebound, and a steal down the stretch all while playing much of the homestretch at the point.
"These seniors, they don't even like to lose a drill in practice much less a game," Layton said after the win. "There are four teams from our district still playing and there's, what, two days left in the season? We can never take a night off, but that helps us."
A Lindenfeld jumper gave Midlothian the lead at 47-46 at 2:15 to go. The Raiders tied the game as Natalie Villafior hit one of two free throws sixteen seconds later. Averette answered by going one-for-two at the line fourteen seconds later to give the Trojans the lead for good.
After Tannor scored her final field goal at 1:37 left for a 50-47 lead, the Raiders drew a foul on Averette and Gillis drained a pair to cut the margin to one.
Tannor was fouled with 28 seconds left, but missed the front end of an one-and-one. Brittany Beckwith, who will play soccer at VCU, got a huge offensive rebound, taking 13 more seconds off the clock. Forced to foul Tannor again, the Raiders watched as Zhara hit two free throws for a 52-49 lead.
Gillis took the ball coast-to-coast for two, and the Raiders called timeout with 9.3 seconds left. Averette got the inbounds pass but was trapped backcourt. Layton called timeout to save the possession, forcing the Raiders to foul Averette when she took the next inbounds pass with 4.2 to go. The senior missed the first, but hit the second free throw to make it 53-51.
After a series of timeouts, the Raiders tried to use the double inbounds play to hit a teammate at halfcourt. The play was disrupted by Madison Steele, who stole the ball and was fouled with 1.3 to go. Steele hit the free throws that gave the Trojans their 14th win in their last 15 games.
Midlothian now faces either Monacan or William Fleming in Saturday's 11:45AM 4A State Championship game at the Siegel Center. The Trojans are 2-2 against Monacan this season, 1-0 against William Fleming, defeating the Colonels 69-65 on January 16th in the StatVa.Com Girls Basketball Classic.