By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, March 6 — The Islanders traveled nearly four hours to take on the Bulldogs, and the game seemed to get away from them in the first four minutes.
Poquoson (12-12) only hit three buckets in the first quarter and turned the ball over 17 times in the first half. The Islanders played a tough schedule this season, but suffered numerous injuries and only fielded nine players on Friday night.
“I wanted us to take care of business,” LHS head coach Joe Lucas said after the game. “We hit some shots early, and they missed a few to help us stretch the lead.”
Sophomore Amber Tharpe hit two shots from beyond the arc in the opening minutes as the Bulldogs charged out to a 10-2 lead. The host team put up 18 points in each of the first two quarters and went to the locker room up 36-17 at the half.
Through the first three quarters, Luray shot nearly 53 percent from the floor (22-for-42) and played tenacious defense, forcing many of the Islanders’ turnovers.
At the end of three periods, Coach Lucas began to substitute freely with a 31-point lead. The bench closed out the 58-31 win in the first round of the 2A state tournament.
Sophomore Emilee Weakley led Luray with 30 points, while junior Brynlee Burrill added 14 points.
Poquoson was led by sophomore Logan Pickford with 13 points.
Now, the Bulldogs (28-1) advance to the state’s Final Four on Tuesday. The time and location will mirror the quarterfinal round. Luray will stay close to home and play host in the semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Page County High School.
“It’s huge,” Coach Lucas said of the “home court” advantage in the state tournament. “It’s the exact same gym as ours, but different colors.”
Luray’s state semifinal opponent will be familiar as well — Bull Run District-rival Strasburg. The Rams defeated Thomas Jefferson (Richmond) on the road Friday night to advance to the Final Four.
For the fifth time this season, the Rams and Bulldogs will butt heads on the court. They split during the regular season, with each home team winning. The road loss to Strasburg in mid-January marks Luray’s only loss this season.
While Luray won the next three meetings with Strasburg, last Saturday’s matchup for the Region 2B title was a close one. Luray fell behind early and overcame a double-digit halftime deficit to win, 59-58.
“They had us on the ropes. We can’t afford to do that again,” Coach Lucas said. “We knew if we took care of business, there was a collision course for us to meet again.”
The Bulldogs and the Rams know each other well. While Strasburg will be trying to stop Weakley and Burrill, Luray will try to stymie two 6’4” forwards in seniors Christyan Reid and Jaden Alsberry.
“We have to make them beat us from the perimeter,” Lucas said. “We know each other… there’s no secrets.”
Admission to the state tournament semifinal next Tuesday is $10 — and get there early.
The Bulldog fans have traveled well, filling more than half of the spacious gym at Spotswood High School last Saturday night. Now, they are hoping to make travel plans for a state championship in Richmond next Saturday at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Seigel Center.
But Luray is still one win away.
“We had a great crowd tonight,” Coach Lucas said after Friday’s quarterfinal. “We hope to have an even bigger one on Tuesday.”