Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

March 4, 2013

They're back: Richlands returns to Richmond

Lady Blues have plans for a longer stay

RICHMOND, Va. — They’re back, and this time they want to have a reason to return later in the week.

The Richlands girls basketball team survived an overtime affair with Brookville to advance to the Group AA Division 3 state semifinals, which will be held today at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center.

Richlands (22-4) will play Brunswick (25-2) at 3 p.m., with the winner advancing to play Spotswood or Monticello in the state finals on Saturday at 11 a.m.

The Lady Blues reached the same point last season, dropping a hard-fought 42-34 decision to Liberty-Bealeton. The Bulldogs have never been to the state’s final four in girls basketball.

Advantage, Richlands.

“It is definitely going to help us,” Richlands head coach Dennis Palmer said. “That part of it is not going to affect us any at all as far as the atmosphere and playing in that gym.

“We have just got to be able to handle Brunswick’s pressure.”

Richlands survived the pressure defense of Brookville in Saturday’s quarterfinals, falling behind 20-11 at the break, but rallied past the Bees to win in overtime behind 12 blocked shots and 11 rebounds from Rachel Alley, along with 20 points from Brittany Allen and 11 by Cassidy Richardson.

The Lady Blues also picked it up on defense, allowing the Bees 21 more shots, but Brookville shot just 24.6 percent in the game.”

“We got off to a real bad start, they were up in us and put a lot of pressure on us,” said Palmer, whose Blues also got eight points from MaKenley Davis and a key 3 and strong man-to-man defense after the break on Brookville’s top scorer by Montana Hearl.” At halftime we made some adjustments on it and played with a lot of heart in the second half.

“Basically it was just getting down into it and showing a lot of heart and a lot of grit and not wanting to lose.”

Alley leads the Region IV runner-up Lady Blues in scoring with nearly 20.0 points a game. Richardson and Davis are effective from 3-point range, while Alley and Sarah Compton can provide inside points.

While Richlands has lost just four games all season, the Bulldogs have dropped just two, both to Group AAA foes Cosby and Princess Anne. The Region I champions defeated Western Albemarle 55-31 in Saturday’s state quarterfinal game in Harrisonburg.

“They are very athletic, very quick and they have got good speed,” Palmer said. “They will play us kind of like Brookville did. They will press us a little bit and get into us a little bit so we have to be strong with the basketball and not turn the ball over against them.

“They get a lot of points off turnovers and a lot of points off transition.”

Brunswick, which is located in Lawrenceville, Va., is a basketball power in boys basketball in Virginia, winning five state championships, including the last two under head coach Bryant Stith, who was a college standout at the University of Virginia. The Bulldogs were state-runnerups four straight seasons from 2007-10.

The girls, however, have never been this far, and this team is led by a Stith, her daughter, Bria Stith. She is a 5-foot-10 freshman who provides 10.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game. Stith is joined inside by 5-10 Tiffany Banks, who pulls down 9.5 rebounds a contest.

That could mean another busy afternoon for the 6-1 Alley, who set a Group AA record and tied the overall record for blocks in a game with 12 against the Bees. Alley has 21 blocked shots in her last two games.

“If she can play like that again, that will help us a lot, but they put a lot of pressure on the ball,” Palmer said. “They are athletic, but we can get up and down the floor and score in transition too.

“We are going to do what we do. We are not going to change how we play. We will play our game and if they can shut us down then they can shut us down.”

Brunswick, which has won 11 straight, are scoring 69.8 points a contest, but have reached 70 on 18 occasions, and have tallied as many as 87, and have recorded 86 and 84 twice each this season.

The Lady Blues average 53.5 points a contest, while allowing 41.3, and more than 50 just four times all year.

The Bulldogs are led in scoring by three-point threat Myneshia Walker and Desiray Bennett, who both average 16.4 points a game. Both also provide the Juliana Lashley-Grant-coached Bulldogs with more than five steals a game.

Bennett also tallies 9.3 boards a game, while Juanita Eshelman dishes out 7.5 assists a contest.

The Bulldogs, who are winning games by a margin of 38.5 points a game, won its opener this season 82-8 against Franklin.

“I think they have scored over 70 points in at least half of their games,” Palmer said. “They have one girl, Walker, who can score the ball and Bryant Stith’s daughter is 5-10 or 5-11 and rebounds well and scores well down inside.

“They also have a couple of scorers outside. We have to play good defense to have a chance to win.”

It worked on Saturday, despite falling behind early to Brookville, which led by as much as 12 in the third quarter before the Lady Blues whittled their way back to win in overtime.

The Bulldogs will buzz around much like the Bees.

“It is that on-the-ball pressure, we had not seen much of that,” Palmer said. “They were great with on-the-ball pressure and Brunswick will do the same thing. Seeing that in the quarterfinals will surely help us.”

The Siegel Center is slated to host 30 playoff games this week beginning Monday and running through Saturday.

However, with the projected heavy snow expected to sweep across much of Virginia over the next few days, VHSL spokesman Mike McCall told the Roanoke Times that plans are being made to play on Sunday if necessary.

Palmer hopes his Lady Blues, who will return to Richlands even with a win today, has a reason to return whatever day the final game is played.

“If we happen to win, we will go back on Thursday or Friday,” Palmer said. “We know the weather is coming in (Tuesday) night, we are not exactly sure what time it will hit, but hopefully we can get out there before it does.

“If it does hit and it is bad, it may push things back some, I don’t know.”

— Contact Brian Woodson

 at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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