By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Feb. 27 — Amber Tharpe only hit one shot all night — but it may have been the biggest shot of the Luray sophomore’s life.
Just moments earlier, Page County junior Morgan Lucas looked to be the hero. She hit a shot from the paint to put the Panthers up, 35-33, with 10 seconds left on the clock.
On the inbound, the pass went to Luray sophomore standout Emilee Weakley who ran down the floor and was looking to drive the lane when LHS head coach Joe Lucas called a timeout with 5 seconds remaining.
“We drew it up for Emilee to go right to the rim… put pressure on the official to make the call or get the shot,” Lucas said.
But Page’s pressure kept Weakley away from the basket as she drove the baseline — then she passed the ball to Tharpe.
“Emilee made a great pass… that was the best pass of the season,” Lucas said after the game.
Tharpe stepped up without hesitation from beyond the arc and found the bottom of the net to steal a 36-35 win from the visiting Panthers.
“I saw them coming at me and I just thought ‘Oh God let this go in,’” Tharpe said after Thursday night’s game. “I’m just glad that I did it for my teammates… it feels amazing.”
On the other side of the scorer’s table, it felt a lot different.
“We executed our game plan,” said PCHS head coach E.J. Wyant. “We said if somebody besides Weakley or [Brynlee] Burrill beats us, then we’ll have to live with it… but it’s hard to live with.”
The talented Panthers (15-11) went bucket-for-bucket with the No.1 seed in the Region 2B tournament during their third meeting with the Bulldogs. The game was tied five times, and there were 12 lead changes during the game.
The scoring through the first three quarters was 6-6, 7-6 and 8-8. Both teams shot a combined 9-for-51 (17.6 percent) from the floor in a sloppy first half, but both picked up momentum in the fourth quarter.
Weakley, who had been under the weather earlier in the day, picked up her fourth foul with 2:28 remaining. PCHS sophomore Caris Lucas hit both free throws to put the Panthers up, 30-25.
On the other end of the floor, Burrill got the bucket, the foul and hit the free throw to bring Luray within two, 30-28, with 2:12 on the clock. Then PCHS sophomore Leah Hilliard gave Page a four-point lead, 32-28, and Coach Wyant called a timeout with 1:06 remaining.
A few seconds later, Weakley drove the lane and hit a runner that closed the game to 32-30. Coach Lucas then called a timeout with 54.7 seconds remaining.
Each side traded a 1-of-2 performance at the foul line over the next 30 seconds that left Page with a two-point advantage, 33-31.
Weakley then hit two free throws to tie the game, 33-33, with :22.4 on the clock. Lucas seemed to seal the upset for the Panthers with her basket 12 seconds later, but Tharpe beat the buzzer from beyond the arc to send the Bulldogs to the Region 2B championship Saturday at Spotswood.
“She’s the most improved player in our program,” Coach Lucas said of Tharpe after the win.
“These girls have changed our program,” Lucas added. “Two years ago, we won four games. The kids have bought into the program, the parents have bought into the program… these girls have worked hard and ultimately I think they got what they deserved.”
Anyone near them could see the emotion in the eyes of both coaches moments after the game — both were shocked, but for different reasons.
“This is a tough one,” Coach Wyant said. “It took until the second half for our nerves to settle in.
“I told the girls that I was proud of them after the game,” he continued. “They played their hearts out… this is a tough one.”
Page County was led by Hilliard with 12 points, followed by senior Abbey Nauman, sophomore Caris Lucas and junior Morgan Lucas all with six.
Luray was led once again by Weakley with 20 points, but her game was noticeably off as she only hit three buckets in the first half and went 2-for-7 from the line. However, the sophomore finished strong with nine points in the fourth quarter. In the quarterfinal round against Clarke, Weakley put up 35.
Burrill added 11 points for Luray Thursday night, including three crucial points late that kept the game close.
The Bulldogs (26-1) advance to the Region 2B championship at 6 p.m. Saturday at Spotswood High School. They face the winner of the two/three-seed matchup between Strasburg and Stuarts Draft.
The region semifinal win also qualifies Luray for the 2A state tournament. The Bulldogs will face either Thomas Jefferson (Richmond) or Poquoson in the state quarterfinals next Friday, March 6.