COURTLAND — Trailing by four Tuesday with 30 seconds left on the clock in Tuesday’s state semifinal against Maggie Walker, it appeared Greensville County’s magical ride was coming to an end. When those 30 seconds ticked to zero, a jubilant group of Lady Eagles and their fans were swarming onto the court with a 39-38 victory to earn a spot in Saturday’s 2A State Championship game in Richmond.
Senior Lenah Clements gave her Greensville squad life by burying a 3-pointer near the top of the circle with 26 seconds left in the game to cut the Green Dragons lead to 37-36.
“I’ll be honest,” Clements said. “Me being a senior, it kind of hit me when I looked at the clock and there were 30 seconds left and we were down.”
The 3-pointer not only gave Clements a ray of hope, it put a little extra bounce in the step of her teammates. After a quick timeout, Greensville coach Sharon Randolph set up a full court press. That little extra bounce paid off as Sanijah Robinson came up with a steal along the baseline. Robinson flipped the ball out to Clements, who zipped a pinpoint pass to an open Kailyn Pleasants under the basket. Pleasants completed the play successfully and put her team in front with 14 seconds remaining.
“When I got the ball I was thinking, just go up strong and make the shot.,” Pleasants said. “It was make or break time and I made it.”
Greensville County (23-5) made another defensive stop before the final seconds ticked off the clock. Maggie Walker (18-6) lost the ball out of bounds at the Lady Eagles end of the floor. With only five team fouls the Green Dragons needed to come up with a steal or foul quickly. Two successful inbound plays for the Lady Eagles and two quick Maggie Walker fouls sent Clements to the free throw line with only two seconds left on the game clock. Clements missed the free throw, but a Maggie Walker desperation heave as the buzzer sounded was well off target, sending the Lady Eagles off the bench to the court in celebration.
The emotional swing from the time the season appeared to be coming to an end for Greensville to the time the Lady Eagles knew they earned a spot in the state finals was felt by Pleasants. Though doubt was creeping in, she never completely lost faith.
“We hung our heads when we fell behind late in the game,” Pleasants said. “But our great captain Lenah and our great coach both said the game isn’t over yet and until there are nothing but zeros on the clock and to just keep pushing.”
Though Greensville was trailing late in the contest, it held the lead for the majority of the first half. Jacqueline Hill scored the first bucket of the game on a baseline drive with 7:15 left in the first quarter. Moments later, Robinson pushed the advantage to 4-0 with and offensive rebound and put-back. The Green Dragons never fell behind by more than five points in the first quarter, which ended with the Eagles in front 10-7.
Jazlyn Jefferson sank one of two from the charity stripe with 3:29 left in the first half to extend the Greensville lead to 16-10. That would turn out to be the largest margin either team held in the contest until the fourth quarter. Maggie Walker answered with a 6-0 run, capped by a 3-point dagger by Emma Ragone with 1:05 left in the frame to knot the game at 16-16. Clements put Greensville in front with a drive and kiss off the glass with 19 seconds left in the quarter to send her team to the locker room with an 18-16 advantage.
The Green Dragons moved in front for the first time, 22-21, when Ragone hit a pair of free throws with 2:57 left the third quarter. Greensville knotted the contest at 23-23 and 25-25, but Maggie Walker’s Annabel Tripodi scored the final bucket of the frame with 24 seconds remaining to send her team into the final eight minutes of regulation with a 27-25 lead.
The Green Dragons enjoyed their largest advantage, 35-29, when Kaitlyn Campbell hit a jumper with 1:41 left in the game, but Clements buried a critical 3-pointer 14 seconds later to trim the deficit in half. A Pleasants’ free throw followed by a pair from the charity stripe by Maggie Walker’s Lisa Qin with 59 seconds remaining set up the wild finish to the contest.
Region A Player of the Year Clements hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 87 seconds to fulfill a promise she made to her teammates. She said it was a complete team effort.
“We listened to coach and did what we were supposed to do,” Clements said. “I told them we were going to VCU and that’s what we are doing. I played four years for this. I dreamed of this. I thank God for letting us get here.”
Clements scored a game-high 18 points. Pleasants and Robinson netted 7, each. Hill and Jefferson both scored 3 points. Ragone’s 13 points paced the Maggie Walker attack. Also scoring for the Green Dragons were Ge’Shanti Atkins, 12 points, Tripodi, 8 points, and Campbell, 2 points.
Greensville will play at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9 at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Richmond against two-time defending state champion Central (25-4), a 50-48 overtime winner against Ridgeview Tuesday.
Jefferson, one of two Greensville County seniors recently won a pair of state indoor track titles in the triple-jump and 300-meter run for the Eagles. Add the basketball success and she is enjoying quite a ride.
“It feels good,” she said. “It feels really, really good. We’ve never been here in my four years. I want us to do something that has never been done before at Greensville County - bring home a team state championship.”