Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 23, 2014

Lady Blues rule the Southern Empire

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

RICHLANDS, Va. — The plan for Brittany Allen was the less stress the better.

It worked, as the Richlands girls basketball team outscored Grayson Coutny 28-14 in the second half to pull away from Grayson County and capture the first-ever Southern Empire Conference (39) championship on Saturday night at Richlands Middle School.

"It is really a great accomplishment on our team's part," said Allen, who led all scorers with 18 points, including nine in each half. "They did really good and they stepped up and I am really proud of them."

Richlands (17-5) will host Wise County Central in the 2A-West regionals on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Win, and thet Lady Blues will advance to the semifinals on Thursday at Floyd County High Schooll.

"We are going to have to play well, but if we play like we do in surges at times, we can beat anything," Richlands head coach Dennis Palmer said. "If we play like that we will be a tough team to knock out."

Grayson County (16-9), which will vist Gate City on Tuesday, pulled within 13-12 at the end of the first quarter, but the Lady Blues followed with an 11-6 second period run to take a 24-18 lead, and kept building the lead from there.

"I didn't think we came out with as much focus tonight after playing Tazewell" said Palmer, whose Lady Blues had to rally to beat Tazewell on Thursday night. "I think the focus wasn't where it needed to be early, but I think we got it back in the second half.

"We went on a great surge right there, scored probably about 15 or 16 points in a row.

"If we play like that we are going to be a tough out."

Richlands came out for the break looking to get a little space in the third period, and did with Allen's advice and her seven points in the quarter, with the Lady Blues taking a 37-26 lead into the final eight minutes.

"We knew if we could come out in the third quarter and get fired up and get up by 10 then the fourth quarter would be a little bit les stressful," Alen said. "I told them that and that helped a little bit."

Allen's 18 points were complemented by 11 by Montana Hearl and another 15 by freshman Olivia Harmon, who had two of Richlands' trio of 3s. Lani Rhinehart and Alex Sword also played well as first year players for the Blues.

"Olivia is really coming on, she struggled a little bit early in the year, but she has came on with her shooting," Palmer said. "She can put the ball on the floor and drive it. We had a freshman that came off the bench, Alex Sword, she gave us four or five critical rebounds when we needed them.

"All the freshmen have come on, Lani has come on, she shoots the ball well, and Nadia (Ashiq) did a good job of controlling the ball, handling the ball and not turning the ball over."

Defense was a key part of Grayson County's demise, with the Blues mixing up defenses to force 18 turnovers, including 11 in the opening half. They also held the Blue Devils' center Camryn McGrady to just five points, well below her season average.

"We mixed it up, we went some fullcourt trap, we went to some halfcourt trap," Palmer said. "I thought we mixed our defenses up pretty well, we tried to shut down their post player because she is real good.

"I thought their post player was the key to their team. We were trying to keep her off the boards and try to keep her from getting 17 or 20 points on us."

Sarah Compton was held to three points for Richlands, but did have 10 rebounds. Grayson County was led by Meredith Frost with nine points.

Allen, who is the school's all-time leading scorer, was quick to credit her teammates for the effort against the Blue Devils, as the Lady Blues continue their quest for a third straight trip to the state tournament.

"Olivia did great, Lani did great, Montana, Sarah, we all played as a team," Allen said. "I thought we all pitched in and helped each other. It was a really good win for us."

— Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com