By Randy Arrington
RICHMOND, March 12 — Tears flowed at both ends of the court after the final buzzer sounded at Saturday’s Class 2 state championship at VCU’s Siegel Center. On one side emotions poured out after overcoming a 10-point deficit in the final eight minutes to capture a sixth state title since 2014. On the other end of the court, the emotions illustrated the pain and frustration of coming within one basket of securing back-to-back state titles — but coming up just short after a long, 30-game season.
“We were right where we wanted to be through three-and-a-half quarters,” Luray High School girls basketball coach Joe Lucas said after the game.
In the opening minutes, the Class 2 state title game was tied twice and saw four lead changes. LHS senior Amber Tharpe got things started with an opening three-pointer that got the crowd roaring, while senior Emilee Weakley would score the Bulldogs’ next 10 points to close out the first quarter, including a 6-for-6 effort at the free throw line.
The No. 2-ranked Warriors of Wise County were not intimidated by the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs or their top player, as Wise’s standout freshman Emmah McAmis hit for nine points in the opening frame and the Warriors held a 16-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Bulldogs committed an uncharacteristic eight turnovers in the first period and would give the ball up for a season-high of 27 turnovers by the end of the game.
“I don’t think the girls were spooked,” Coach Lucas said. “We just had mistakes at the wrong time.”
Luray would make a 16-8 run in the second quarter fueled by two of junior Jaidyn McClung‘s five three-pointers on the day. Weakley added six more in the second, including another perfect 4-for-4 performance at the line. The Bulldogs’ 29-24 lead at the half would have been even greater if not for a last-second, old-fashioned three-pointer at the buzzer by McAmis, who was fouled and hit the free throw with no time on the clock.
At the half, Weakley had 16 points, while McAmis posted 15.
Luray went on a 15-10 run in the third to extend their lead to 10. Weakley added another 10 points in the period, including two shots from beyond the arc. McAmis scored eight of Wise’s 10 points during the frame.
Despite McClung opening up the fourth quarter with two consecutive three-pointers and timely baskets by junior Lindsey Bly and sophomore Emily Donovan, the Bulldogs began to lose their momentum the deeper they went into the final period.
In the final eight minutes, the Wise offense went into overdrive and pulled within one when senior Jillian Sturgill hit a three-pointer to make the score 54-53 with 3:46 remaining. Luray would hit only two more baskets the rest of the game, both by Weakley, one a three-pointer.
Central of Wise outscored Luray 28-15 in the fourth quarter, but it took nearly every second of the eight-minute period to capture the win.
Luray still held a 59-57 lead with less than a minute to play before McAmis drove the basket against two defenders, hit the shot and drew a foul. The standout freshman hit the free throw to give Wise a 60-59 lead with 43 seconds left.
The Bulldogs would turn the ball over two more times in the final stretch, and Wise began to use its foul advantage to disrupt Luray’s offense.
“We just didn’t get what we wanted in the last several minutes. We played the pace we wanted, we just weren’t getting stops,” Coach Lucas said after the game. “They had two team fouls in the fourth quarter and that played to their advantage. They had fouls to give at the end to keep us from getting the looks we wanted.”
McAmis would hit two more free throws and finish the night with a game-high 34 points, to cap off a 62-59 victory. Wise scored 25 points off turnovers, including 20 fast breaks. Throughout the game, Wise matched Luray’s intensity and hustle as well as any opponent this season.
With the win, Central of Wise (26-5) captured its sixth state title since 2014 (including three-straight from 2017 to 2019).
With the loss, Luray completes the season at 27-3 as Class 2 runners-up. It’s the Bulldogs’ second state runner-up finish in three seasons, after capturing the program’s first state title last season with a record of 13-0. Luray loses six graduating seniors next season, the core of which, have posted a 69-5 record over the past three years.
“They completely changed our program,” Coach Lucas said. “They got the whole community to rally around them…people who hadn’t come out to a Luray basketball since the ’70s when Luray was a dynasty. They are unselfish. They play for one another, and they play hard.”
And no one played harder than Div. II-Shepherd University commit Weakley, who finished the state championship with 31 points, 13 rebounds and a 10-for-10 effort at the line. That drives her career point total to an even 2,600, which puts her fourth among the all-time scoring leaders for girls high school basketball in Virginia. She sits just behind Courtni Green (2,626) who finished at Millbrook High School in 2012, Devon Brown (2,728) who graduated from Waynesboro High School in 2008, and the all-time leader, LaKeisha Frett, who finished at Phoebus High School in 1993 with 3,290 points.
After earning Bull Run District and Region B “Player of the Year” honors for a third-straight year, Weakley could likely earn a second-straight honor as the Class 2 Player of the Year, when All-State selections are announced later this week.
Immediately following Saturday’s title game, Weakley’s emotions showed, but she said she still hadn’t fully come to grips with the state championship being her last high school game.
“[Wise was] trying to take me away, but I was going to do everything in my power to not let them do that and I was going to fight no matter what,” Weakley said of Central’s double- and sometimes triple-teaming defense against Luray’s leading scorer. “I think it will sink in a little later…I just wish I had one more game. I wish we could have finished this one out.”
McLung finished the title game with 15 points, all by way of the three-point line. The junior, who will become the team’s senior leader next season, said she’ll miss the six seniors graduating this year.
“I’ve played with these seniors my whole life,” McClung said after Saturday’s game. “I’ve taken so much from them and grown as a person.”
Senior Avery Alger, who earned second team All-District and All-Region honors this season, said the last three seasons — with only five losses, including two in a state championship — have been an experience she’ll never forget.
“I honestly would have never imagined it,” Alger said. “I’ve had the time of my life.”