Bulldogs come up short in state championship

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LHS-state runners-up
The LHS girls basketball team watches Gate City receive the state title trophy after being named runners-up on Thursday at VCU's Siegel Center.

By Randy Arrington

RICHMOND, March 12 — The 2A state championship opened up for the Bulldogs much like the semifinal round.

Luray went basket-for basket with their opponent in a fast-paced first quarter in front of a roaring crowd on both sides of the court. The Bulldogs shot 70 percent from the floor in the first eight minutes, while Gate City drained four 3-pointers. 

The score was knotted up at 18-18.

The game saw 11 lead changes and was tied five times in the first half, as both teams traded buckets against a tough, hustling defense on both ends. Gate City took a four-point margin into the locker room, 30-26.

But the game changed in the third quarter.

Gate City went on a 16-6 run over the next eight minutes. Luray only hit three buckets in the third, shooting just 25 percent.

“We missed a lot of shots,” LHS head coach Joe Lucas said of the turning point in the game. “We didn’t get to the foul line as much. They hit some shots, and we couldn’t answer.”

With a 14-point lead heading into the fourth, Gate City slowed the pace of the game way down and went 11-of-12 at the foul line in the final eight minutes.

 Luray outscored them 22-18 in the final period, but couldn’t overcome Gate City’s 50 percent shooting on the day. The Region D runner-up went on to win the 2A state championship, 64-54.

Sophomore Emilee Weakley, the Region 2B Player of the Year, led Luray with 25 points. Freshman Jaidyn McClung had a strong performance in the state title game, scoring 14 points. Junior Brynlee Burrill, another All-Region first team selection (along with Weakley), added 12.

“They were just better than we were,” Coach Lucas said of Gate City (20-11) after the game Thursday. “But we got down to where there were only two teams left.”

Thursday’s Class 1 and Class 2 state championship basketball games will be the only ones played this season. 

After initially announcing Thursday morning that the remaining title games would continue with limited crowds of “family and close friends” due to the spread of the coronavirus, the Virginia High School League announced during Luray’s game that it was cancelling all further state championships — that included girls and boys basketball for Class 3, 4, 5, and 6. The final two teams in each class will now become co-state champions.

The VHSL announcement came just hours before the NCAA decided to cancel March Madness to help prevent spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. These unprecedented moves came one day after the NBA cancelled the rest of its season.

If the 2A state title game had been scheduled 24 hours later, Luray would have been co-champions with Gate City. But Coach Lucas expressed some appreciation for being able to “play it out on the court.”

The Bulldogs can say they played for a state title this season — only seven other teams in Virginia can even say that this March.

Despite the disappointing loss, Coach Lucas knows that his Bulldogs are on the verge of a potential strong run over the next couple of seasons.

“We are ahead of schedule,” Coach Lucas said of his youthful program. “These girls have set a new standard.”

With only one senior, Courtney Fox, Lucas will field almost the exact same team next year — a team with experience in a state title game. The 2019-2020 LHS girls basketball team (29-2) will go down as the best-ever in Bulldog history.

“They are a special group,” Lucas said.

And despite the long hours and hard work that began back in November, the state runner-up coach said what most coaches say when they have the game in their blood.

“It’s been so special this season,” Lucas said. “On the way down [to Richmond], I said I’d like to start over.”

Next November they will, and Bulldog Nation is anxious to start another run for a state title. 

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