By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Feb. 9 — After getting a late, and then further delayed, start to the 2021 season, the Luray High School girls basketball team has become dominant in recent weeks.
The games the Bulldogs initially had scheduled for December were cancelled or rescheduled. They started the season on Jan. 6 with an 11-point win on the road at Strasburg. They played their second game at home three days later, handing Stonewall Jackson a 16-point loss.
Then Luray had an 18-day layoff due to COVID protocols before they would play their third game of the season. In fact, between COVID and snow days, the Bulldogs have only had two full practices since the beginning of January.
“It’s them,” LHS head coach Joe Lucas said of his team’s focus through a 2021 season filled with obstacles. “They are so mature…we have a veteran group.”
The Bulldogs followed up the 18-day layoff with three-straight wins on three consecutive days — in back-to-back weeks. Luray headed into the playoffs with a perfect mark of 8-0, closing out the season with a 15-point win over rival Page County and a 29-point win against Rappahannock.
As Luray headed into the Region B tournament, their margin of victory continued to grow, as did their wins. The Bulldogs beat eighth-seeded Stuarts Draft in Monday night’s quarterfinal by 38 points. On Tuesday night, they continued that trend, with a 27-point win over fifth-seeded Stonewall Jackson.
Tuesday’s semifinal marked the first time that Luray had not scored more than 63 points in the past five games, but the 55-28 win over the Generals did not come easy in the opening eight minutes.
Although the Bulldogs jumped out to 6-0 lead in the first two minutes of the game, two three-pointers from Stonewall senior Kylene Franklin and one from sophomore Breanna Franklin kept the Generals close as they only trailed 15-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Stonewall shot a dismal 2-for-9 from the floor over the second period and was outscored 16-4 in the second. Luray went to the locker room with a 31-15 halftime lead. All but three of the Bulldogs first half points were scored by junior Emilee Weakley and senior Byrnlee Burrill.
Luray didn’t slow up in the third, with a 16-9 run over the period. They even outpaced the visitors in the final frame, 8-4, as the Bulldogs began to substitute freely.
Weakley once again lead the Bulldogs with 27 points on the night, followed by Burrill with 18 and sophomore Jaidyn McClung added five.
The Generals were lead by a hard-fought effort from senior Kylene Franklin, who had 10 points in the semifinal. Sophomores Mya Councill and Breanna Franklin each contributed seven points.
Luray now advances for the second-straight year to the Region 2B championship, in which they are currently scheduled to host Staunton for a 6:30 p.m. tip-off on Thursday night (weather permitting). A winter storm warning has the game somewhat in doubt, but school officials stated Tuesday night that the championship would be played on the next available day, if Thursday’s contest gets snowed out.
Coming out of the Shenandoah District, seventh-seeded Staunton has mounted two upsets thus far in the Region 2B tournament. On Monday night, they defeated No. 2 Madison before knocking out No. 3 Page County on the road Tuesday night. The Panthers finished the season at 9-4.
In order to make a return trip to the 2A state tournament, the Bulldogs (10-0) will have to win the Region 2B championship against Staunton (5-8). In previous years, both teams would advance to the state tournament in an eight-team field (two from each of four regions). However, this year the state tournament is being shortened to two rounds, with only the four regional champions advancing.
“We’ve talked about the press conference after the state championship last year…the girls said ‘We want to go back’…and they are pretty focused and know what they want to get done,” Coach Lucas said after Tuesday night’s win.
Staunton comes into Thursday’s regional championship after two upset wins behind height in the paint and strong point guard play. Coach Lucas knows that his team needs to remain focused, continue to improve an already tenacious defense, and continue to find ways to score.
“We don’t talk about making shots, but getting the right shots,” Lucas said.
“We need to remain locked in and ignore all the noise…expectations…COVID…it’s all about staying together and staying locked in,” he continued. “Being really connected and a tight-knit group makes that a little easier.”
The PVN Sports “Player of the Game” was LHS junior Emilee Weakley.
Luray moves to 7-0 with second win over Page, 66-51
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