By Cam Huffman
The defending Class AAA champion Greenbrier East girls basketball team went 24 games this season without a loss.
It would probably trade them all for a win in the 25th.
The Class AAA No. 1 Lady Spartans (24-1) lost for the first time Thursday night, and the defeat ended their season. Capital (9-14) came into Spartan Gymnasium on a snowy night in front of a packed house and pulled the upset, winning 54-45 to capture the Region 3 co-championship, punch its ticket to the state tournament in Charleston and bring the Greenbrier East season to a shocking end.
“We thought we had a good game plan,” said Capital head coach B.J. Calabrese, who found 16 points from Keke Walker and 11 from Daisha Foster, the tallest player on the floor. “We came down (to Fairlea) three weeks ago to play them (a 68-57 Greenbrier East victory), and the thinking was that we may very well see them again in the regional. I think that really, really helped us.
“We have a group of seniors that has grown over the last two or three years,” he continued. “They really kept their heads. Greenbrier East made a couple of runs, and we could have folded. But we didn’t do it. They played a great game. To come down here and do it means a lot.”
The mood on the other side was much different. Greenbrier East head coach Jim Justice — who lost two starters from last year’s state championship team before the start of the season but found a way to put together a memorable regular season and then cruise to a sectional championship with wins over Shady Spring and Princeton — called the loss the biggest upset in which he’s ever been involved.
“We sure didn’t take Capital lightly,” he said. “But at the same time, we came out flat. My job is to make them not do that, and we just didn’t get it done.”
The reasons for the result were obvious. Greenbrier East came out with an uninspired effort in the early going and then began to panic. The usually strong 3-point shooting team went 0-for-23 from behind the arc, including 0-for-7 nights from Bianca Andre and Liz Romeo. East turned the ball over 19 times, shot just 26 percent from the field and was dominated on the glass as Capital ended the game with a 55-39 rebounding advantage that included 27 offensive boards and plenty of second and third chances.
“They played us a 3-2 and put a lot of pressure on our outside shooters, but we’ve seen that a lot of times,” said Justice. “To play the way we did was really uncharacteristic. Sometimes a meteorite hits, and it definitely hit us.
It’s a crazy game, and that’s why I love it. Everything we did went haywire.”
The Cougars didn’t exactly torch the nets, either. They finished the game just 32 percent from the field and had only two players in double figures. For the most part, though, Capital handled the Greenbrier East’s defensive pressure well, breaking through its press for easy buckets and opening up a 12-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Cougars held a 26-23 halftime advantage.
The biggest lead came early in the third quarter when Capital went ahead 32-23, and the advantage was eight, 42-34, with a little more than 5 minutes to play in the game when East made one last charge.
An Andre drive past a pair of Capital defenders cut the lead to 42-36, and a Chaunte McDowell steal led to a foul on the other end, where she sunk a pair of free throws to bring the Spartans within 4, much to the delight of the home crowd.
The lead stayed between four and six for the next few minutes until Andre missed a 3-pointer from the corner with her team down six and Walker hit a pair of free throws to put her team ahead 48-40.
Unable to get a 3-pointer the easy way, Andre found one with the old fashioned approach, getting a bucket and a foul to make the score 48-43 with 1:40 to play.
It was 51-45 with 1:22 showing on the clock when McDowell missed an easy layup and East was forced to foul to stop the clock.
Andre picked up her fifth foul, taking the Spartans’ biggest scoring threat off the floor, and Capital calmly handled the pressure of the moment, sinking free throws on the other end to put the game in the bag.
“We watched some film yesterday and saw some things that we didn’t do well the first time we played them,” said Calabrese. “We thought we could match up a lot better, and we did a much better job with their outside shooters.”
Andre, a senior forward, finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds in her final game as a Spartan, the only player in double figures. Maddee Carroll had four points and eight rebounds in her final game.
“Bianca and Maddee started for us and have been here for what seems like forever,” said Justice, who will coach the Spartan boys team in the Region 3, Section 2 championship game tonight against Woodrow Wilson at the Brushfork Armory in Bluefield. “But we have two others in Caitland Boggs and Cecilia Grant that are really special young ladies. All of them are going to do some great things in life, and you just hate this for them.
“But for us to be 24-0 was really a miracle,” the coach continued, reflecting back on the year. “These kids deserved it. They lost two superstars, but they buckled down and worked hard and responded. They accomplished the unbelievable.”
Capital got eight points each from India Hairston and Tatiyana Wood.
The Cougars will learn their seeding for the state tournament, which begins next week, sometime later today.
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH
India Hairston 4 0-0 8, Tatiyana Wood 3 2-2 8, Briana Harris 1 0-0 2, Khadijah Lee 4 2-4 11, Daisha Foster 2 2-5 6, Katie Crowder 0 3-4 3, Keke Walker 6 3-5 16. Totals 20 12-20 54.
Greenbrier East (24-1)
Liz Romeo 2 2-2 6, Bianca Andre 7 3-3 17, Maddee Carroll 1 2-6 4, Chloe Honaker 1 5-6 7, Chaunte McDowell 2 2-6 6, Victoria Krystynak 0 0 -0 0, Lexi Tincher 1 0-0 2, Caitland Boggs 0 0-0 0, Kaitlyn Mize 1 1-2 3. Totals 15 15-25 45.
C 12 14 12 16 — 54
GE 8 15 7 15 — 45
3-pointers — C: 2 (Lee, Walker); GE: none. Fouled out — C: Foster; GE: Andre, Carroll.