The Cosby Titans girls basketball team emphatically ended the hopes of the James Madison Warhawks in overtime in Friday's 6A State Girls Basketball Semifinal, awakening from a second-half slumber to advance to Saturday's state final with a 70-60 overtime win.
For Cosby, now 23-4 and winners of their last eight games, it was another statement to remind their competitors that this is a different team from the one that went unbeaten to the state championship a year ago, but a team just as capable.
"We struggled early in the season and fumbled a few things, but they figured it out. They figured out, 'oh, my gosh, we can score without Dorothy, we can play without Dorothy, let's get going, girls'", said head coach Rachel Mead following the win. "It's been so much fun watching these kids come together and gel."
The major sophomore contributors of a year ago are now the junior leading point producers, as Jocelyn Jones scored 16 of her team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, while Tyra Whitehead battled James Madison's post power, Virginia Tech commit Kelly Koshuta, possession for possession en route to 17 points and 15 rebounds.
While Koshuta ended with a game-high 32 points and eleven boards, Cosby outrebounded the Warhawks 48-29. Even with that stat, disruptive would be a word to describe Koshuta's play, and her effect on the rest of the court, especially on offense.
"She's a very polished player," Mead noted.
Whitehead actually thanked Koshuta for the quality play afterwards.
"She showed that there's somebody out there that's going to push me to my limit, and I'm going to have to step up," Whitehead explained. "She showed me a talent I need moving forward."
Whitehead, having verbally committed to Wake Forest to join area players Ariel Stephenson of Prince George and Destini Walker of Hermitage, will be reacquainted with Koshuta in two years. But first things first, Tyra is thrilled at the thought of, once again, playing for the championship at Siegel.
"It's amazing," Whitehead said with a big smile.
But it almost didn't happen.
Leading 30-19 at halftime and in control, the Titans offense went ice cold in the third quarter. James Madison crept back in, cutting the lead to six at 38-32 after three quarters, then tying the game several times, the last when Koshuta was fouled with 4.2 seconds to go to force overtime at 50-50.
It was a moment of clarity of Jones and the rest of her teammates.
"I was like, what in the world?", Jones reflected after the game. "Sometimes we can get comfortable where, honestly, I didn't know it was that close (down the stretch) until I looked at the scoreboard. That's when we thought, we need to get this together."
Together they did, zooming on a 7-0 run in the 1:27 of overtime. The stretch seemed to break the back of the Warhawks, though they connected on two three-pointers to stay barely alive. But then shots didn't fall. Senior Ali Trani took over, scoring six of her fifteen points at the free throw line down the stretch to send her Titans back to the championship.
For Trani, and her teammates, Saturday's 9pm final will be played for themselves, and for everyone who has worn a Cosby uniform in this, only their first decade of existence.
"Everyone didn't expect us to make it this far, so this is not just for us, it's for everyone else, too, to show that we can do it. We don't need Dorothy and Skye, we're a totally different team," Trani said.
Dorothy is Dorothy Adomako, who led Georgetown in scoring her freshman season this year. Skye is Skye Jefferson, another big post presence with Whitehead in the undefeated run of a year ago.
Now, this group of Titans are one win away from matching their nickname, standing tall once again over the world of Group 6A girls basketball.