By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, March 10 — The future is now.
“Folks were saying we’re a year away, or two years away because we’re so young,” Coach Joe Lucas said. “The opportunity is here now.”
Opportunity indeed — the Luray Bulldogs have won 26 straight games and will now play for the 2A state championship.
“We don’t want it to end,” Lucas said of the Bulldogs’ magical 29-1 season — the best of any LHS girls basketball team in the school’s history, spanning more than a century.
Last Saturday, the Bulldogs defeated Strasburg to claim the school’s first regional title since 2014. It was the second time in three days the scrappy young team had come from behind to win in dramatic fashion in the final minutes.
On Tuesday night, Luray defeated the Rams for the fourth straight time, the last three in the playoffs — the Bull Run title game, the Region 2B title game, and the 2A state semifinal.
The first quarter of the state semifinal lived up to its’ billing — the game was tied five times, with 10 lead changes. Both teams exploded on offense hitting about 50 percent from the floor at a fast and furious pace. The game was tied 18-18 after eight minutes.
“It took us a while to settle in… both teams; it was fast-paced,” Coach Lucas said after the game. “We thought it was to our advantage to keep that pace…keep attacking, keep attacking.”
And the Bulldogs did just that. Outscoring the Rams 11-2 in the second quarter, Luray took a 29-20 advantage into the locker room.
From there, Luray’s lead grew steadily as Strasburg went cold from the floor. The Rams only hit six buckets in the final three quarters — one in the second, two in the third and three in the fourth.
And to make matters worse for the visiting team, Strasburg’s two 6’4” forwards got in foul trouble early in the fourth quarter. Senior Christyan Reid fouled out with 4:22 remaining. Fellow senior Jaden Alsberry was soon heading to the bench behind her.
Strasburg had a few opportunities to get back in the game in the third, but Luray maintained and built on a double-digit lead throughout the fourth.
Sophomore Emilee Weakley led Luray with 22 points. Junior Brynlee Burrill scored 11 on the night, while freshman Jaidyn McClung posted nine points and sophomore Averie Alger had seven.
Strasburg (26-4) was led by Reid and fellow senior Karly Colcombe, who both scored nine points. Alsberry added eight.
To add to the hype of the “big game,” more than 500 people watched the state semifinal — Luray v. Strasburg – Part V — through a live stream provided by Page County Public Schools. More than 1,000 attended Tuesday’s night game, but it did not sell out as feared. It is estimated that about 200 tickets were still available, but seating seemed much more limited than that.
The two top teams in the Bull Run District represented two of the top four teams in the state this season. The battles have been amazing to watch. The only losses either team has suffered was to the other. However, while Strasburg will graduate a core group of five seniors, Luray has gone 29-1 with no seniors on the roster.
“We are young, but all of these girls have gotten valuable varsity minutes, and we talked about how they need to approach it like upper classmen,” Coach Lucas said. “They are beyond their years.”
The fourth year coach — who only won four games two years ago — is quick to credit his players, taking any perceived spotlight off himself. But his dedication is clear and his devotion to his players and his program is evident in the hours he’s spent this postseason scouting the next opponent and preparing for the next challenge.
Coach Lucas’ first response minutes after Tuesday night’s state semifinal win?
“I’m just ready to go start preparing for Gate City.”
Only one game remains — Luray will tip-off with Gate City at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday at VCU’s Siegel Center.
With only one day to prepare, Coach Lucas said he’s not planning anything special. He wants to stick with what’s been working — for 26 straight games.
“The opportunity is here now.”