Friday, March 10, 2017

THREE-PEAT: Monacan 60, King's Fork 59

It was a feeling completely unknown to most Monacan Girls Basketball fans as they sat squeamishly in their seats at the Siegel Center, or refreshed Twitter back in Chesterfield County, as the third quarter ended and the 29-0 Chiefs found themselves only scoring three points in eight minutes, as a four-point halftime lead became an eleven-point deficit.

"I was about to throw up", guard Jaiden Morris candidly admitted during the post-game press conference.

But Morris, and Alex Parson, each navigated through the final period with four fouls, never fouling out, and National High School Player of The Year Megan Walker left her final mark on both her high school career and Monacan High School, scoring 18 of her game-high 35 points in the fourth period, including the game-winning shot in the final seconds, surviving a desperate last second shot attempt from King's Fork to win their third consecutive Virginia High School League (VHSL) 4A State Championship 60-59 Friday night at the Siegel Center on the campus of VCU.

When asked if her career could have had a better ending, Walker answered in typical Walker fashion.

"You can always be better," Walker noted.

Even Megan fell cold in a third quarter that the Chiefs will likely want to forget, shooting just one for eleven from the field, and missing one of two free throw tries, as King's Fork guard Cydney Harris got hot, scoring nine of her team-high 28 points in the period to give King's Fork a 43-32 advantage.

Morris, saddled with foul trouble all night after picking up two early fouls in the game's first two minutes, scored the game's first two points five seconds in, then wouldn't tally for another 26 minutes before her three-pointer cut King's Fork's lead to six at 48-42 with 5:51 left. After multiple possessions failed in trying to make it a one-possession game, Walker found an offensive rebound, put the ball in and was fouled. Her And One made it 50-47 at 2:58 left.

King's Fork raced down court, scoring just nine seconds later. But the next 35 seconds belonged to Walker, willing her way inside for two baskets for a one-point deficit. Nichols converted two free throws, then Walker answered, was fouled, but missed the free throw. Enter Abby Oguich with a huge offensive rebound and pass to Walker who drew another foul at 2:00 left, and hit both free throws for a 55-54 lead. The comeback was complete, the game was far from over.

The lead would change hands four times in the final two minutes, as King's Fork retook the lead at 1:35 left, but Walker drew the fifth foul on Amesha Miller. The standout for King's Fork scored just six points but was a force inside defensively. Walker's two at the line made it 57-56, but Nichols answered as a runner in the lane got the kind roll, and the Chiefs found themselves, again, down by one with just 1:12 left.

Walker was fouled before Monacan could inbound the ball. She went 1-of-2 at the line for a 58-58 tie. King's Fork held the ball as the clock fell under a minute to play, then forced to call timeout when Norman, who drew a five-second violation earlier during the comeback, almost got another one before the King's Fork bench asked for time at :35.3 left.

Camary Harris was fouled just 1.4 seconds later, and made one of two at the line. It was 59-58 King's Fork, and Monacan's ball. The entire world knew who would get the basketball, and it had to feel like the weight of the world was on Megan Walker's shoulders as she received the ball at the free throw line, moved left, and beat two defenders to the basket at :15 left for the 60-59 lead.

With no timeouts left, King's Fork had to get the ball inbounds and down the court, and found Harris cutting down the right side. Norman got back on defense, forcing a layup try that was too strong. The horn sounded, Monacan began to celebrate, but the officials conferred and said there was 0.3 left when the ball fell out of bounds, last touched by the Chiefs.

King's Fork got the pass in, and their miracle shot went in, but the officials waved it off, saying it didn't come off the shooter's fingers in time.

"We got to celebrate a second time," Walker opined after the game.

Walker's 35 points places her in a tie for 27th place all-time in points scored in Virginia High School League history with 2,062 points. After a slow start at the free throw line, missing five of her first ten shots, she finished 15-for-24 at the stripe. She grabbed eleven rebounds for Monacan, who were outrebounded by King's Fork 43-36.

Head Coach Larry Starr credited the tournament experiences the Chiefs had in December, winning two games in a weekend classic in Maryland, then a Holiday Tournament in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with helping them overcome the deficit in the final period and seize that third trophy.

"Those tournaments helped us, practice helps us," Starr said, asked about the difference between his lauded senior class today versus two years ago. "If we play this game a couple of years ago, I'm not sure we win it."

Abby Oguich, who has filled her role remarkably in the Monacan starting lineup, asked to rebound, block out, defend, and dive, did it all again, including the aforementioned offensive rebound of a Walker missed free throw, finishing with eight rebounds, two assists and a steal. She will be the only returning starter in 2017-18 as Walker, Morris, Norman and Alex Parson all head to play college basketball.

"It's been an honor playing with them. It's going to be hard next year, but we'll be back," Oguich said.

The ending was a heartbreaking moment for a King's Fork team that obviously learned a lot from their 74-65 loss at Monacan in the 4A East Region Championship just two weeks ago. With eight minutes left, their lead was eleven and the momentum was completely on their side.

But Megan Walker was on Monacan's side, and, in the final act of her four-star production at Monacan High School, Walker saved the best, and most heart-stopping, for last.

NOTES: Monacan finishes the 2016-17 season at 30-0, the first unbeaten Monacan Girls Basketball team in school history. Last year's championship team lost to Highland Springs in the Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament final, and the 2014-15 team lost multiple times to rival Midlothian before defeating them in the state final 65-57. Monacan becomes the second Chesterfield team in as many years to win three straight state titles, joining the Cosby Titans, who won 6A State Championships in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Chiefs, after shooting 9.1% in the third quarter, shot 55.6% in the fourth, making six of eight free throws.

Perhaps the biggest stat untold in the game is this: Monacan committed 16 turnovers in the first three quarters, only registering four assists. In the fourth quarter, their assist-to-turnover ratio was 5-0.

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