All Capital coach Michael Cunningham wanted out of Friday’s sectional championship game at George Washington was the chance to win at the end.
The underdog Cougars got that — and more — rallying into a late four-point lead. But before they could blink, Kalissa Lacy and the Patriots took it right back from them.
Lacy, the state’s reigning player of the year, scored five points in the final 44 seconds, allowing GW to escape with a nervy 47-46 victory in the Class AAAA Region 3 Section 1 finals. Lacy and freshman Finley Lohan each had 16 points for GW (13-3), the No. 3 team in the state poll.
George Washington got the winning basket on a Lacy layup off an inbound play with 17 seconds remaining. Capital (8-7) called a timeout in the front court, but all it could manage was a deep 3-point try from the right corner by Abbie Robinson that was straight, but long, and Macie Mallory collared the rebound at the buzzer for GW.
The win sends GW into Wednesday’s Region 3 co-finals at home against Greenbrier East, which wasn’t able to play its sectional title game at Woodrow Wilson due to a COVID-19 issue, allowing the Flying Eagles to advance uncontested. Capital is not eliminated, but must travel to Beckley Wednesday to play Woodrow in the other co-final.
The Patriots nearly frittered away a 15-point lead they held just before halftime. GW was still ahead by nine points in the final 90 seconds of the third quarter before Capital came storming back. The Patriots were 2 of 11 shooting in the third quarter with six turnovers as their advantage kept melting.
“I think we needed that — a late-season test,’’ said GW coach Jamie LaMaster. “Our kids were able to fight through the adversity this evening. We just kept talking, ‘Next play.’ They were so wound up, and in the moments they made a mistake or turned it over, we just kept telling them, ‘Next play.’ Next play mentality — that’s championship basketball.
“But I want to credit Coach Cunningham, his staff and players. I thought they played with a lot of energy and did a tremendous job this evening. That team was setting up for it all year long, and I just want to tip my hat to them.’’
The Cougars turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, igniting their comeback, and started attacking the basket with more vigor. Kyra Brown ended up with 18 points, Talayah Boxley grabbed 13 rebounds and Robinson dropped in a pair of crucial 3s.
Mya Toombs turned one of Capital’s many late steals into a layup at the other end, giving her side a 46-42 lead with 2:13 left in the game. The score remained there until Lacy’s last-minute heroics.
“My girls are awesome,’’ Cunningham said. “I’ve got an awesome group and I’m just proud of them. I hate that we lost the game, of course, but playing a good team like this, what we want is a chance at the end, and we had that chance. Unfortunately, that’s how the game goes.’’
Lacy drained a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left to bring GW within a point. Capital lost a possession when Toombs was calling for charging with 38 seconds remaining.
The Patriots, down 46-45, called a timeout with 22 seconds left and had Lacy inbound the ball when play resumed. She dropped a bounce pass to Lohan in the right corner and cut to the basket. Lohan gave it right back to Lacy on the move and she hit a layup a few seconds later for the winning shot.
“That was called [during the timeout],’’ Lacy said. “We saw it. We were like, ‘It’s there, so let’s go for it.’ You get that in practice all the time. You read it and see what’s there. I think we were all pretty confident. We’re all used to this [making] decisions in the game. We’re all ready for that.’’
LaMaster realizes his team, which beat Capital by margins of 22 and 14 points in the regular season, could have lost as easily as it won on Friday.
“I saw it happen the last time we played them,’’ LaMaster said. “When things got tight, I think our kids just tightened up. Then you start having turnovers and you start missing shots and Capital heats up and they’re hitting their shots. The first half, we did a great job rebounding, running the ball and hitting shots. The second half, we didn’t do as good a job and Capital stepped it up. We were very fortunate to get out of here this evening with a win.’’
Despite the loss, Cunningham thinks his team matured a little more in this season that has seen the Cougars make great strides.
“The girls played hard, that’s the main thing,’’ Cunningham said. “They came in at halftime and still wanted to play, and that’s the big thing. That’s the change in the culture. In previous games, we would tuck our tail and lay down at that point. But they continued to fight and did everything I asked them to do.’’