The irony wasn’t lost on Woodgrove High School center Stephanie Purnell. The Wolverines’ leading scorer remembers all too well how her team needed to win a tiebreaker to clinch the Dulles District’s No. 1 seed just a season ago.
After headlining a 38-35 comeback win over a Loudoun County team in the same position Feb. 8, Purnell can rest easy knowing the road to a Region II title will go through Purcellville.
The Wolverines finished the regular season at 18-0 in district play and 20-3 overall.
“It gives us some confidence to play in the regional tournament at home this year,” said Purnell, who posted a game-high 17 points.
The Raiders (16-2, 19-4) were determined to shake that confidence early on. Woodgrove led 8-5 after one quarter, but things fell apart for the Wolverines in the second stanza.
Loudoun County, aided by a staunch defense and lights-out shooting, opened the second quarter on a 20-5 run.
The dominant quarter was punctuated by a buzzer-beater by Chloe Knox that originally counted as a trey, but was later amended to a two-pointer, giving County a 27-14 halftime lead.
Raiders’ coach Derek Fisher believes it wasn’t a matter of a Woodgrove breakdown, but rather his girls consistently converting difficult looks.
“I think we hit some tough shots,” said Fisher of the second quarter. “Their defense was still really good. We hit some very difficult, high-degree-of-difficulty shots. When you’re playing against a good team, you’re going to have to make shots like that to get points.”
Fisher admitted that type of output from the floor ultimately isn’t sustainable.
“In the long haul, we’re not going to be able to make enough of those,” he said. “[Woodgrove] did a great job of not allowing us to get anything easy; everything was very, very difficult.”
At the break, Woodgrove head coach Kevin Copley tried his best to channel the Wolverines’ misplaced intensity.
“At halftime, we finally talked about settling down and running our offense,” said Copley, who described his team’s play in the first half as “not basketball” but instead a “defensive struggle.”
Woodgrove’s defense clamped down in the third, limiting the Raiders to a lone field goal in the quarter. The Wolverines’ offense kicked into rhythm too, with Sarah Hardison and Purnell accounting for 11 points and helping to cut the Raider lead to three at 31-28.
A short jumper by Purnell with 3:54 remaining in regulation gave Woodgrove a 34-33 lead that held up for good.
For Copley, the senior Purnell is tops in the discussion of what Dulles has to offer. But he knows he’s biased.
“She’s the best player in the district, that’s just my opinion, I’m selfish, I know that,” said Copley. “You need a player like that to be able to go to. It’s huge to be able to go inside when you’ve got a little bit of a height advantage.”
Another advantage was not having to play a tiebreaker Feb. 9. With a loaded docket between districts and regionals in the lead-up to states, an extra day of rest isn’t to be overlooked.
“Obviously it takes all the weight off your shoulders,” said Copley of avoiding the tiebreaker. “Not playing that game is big because we have three games next week, and three games the following week, and then a week before states. That day of not competing is huge.”
Despite carrying no seniors and only two juniors on its squad, Loudoun County was one wayward buzzer-beater away from sending the game to overtime.
Kat Kushner scored a team-high nine points for the Raiders, who hit six three-pointers in the contest.
The Raiders’ never-say-die mentality could set the stage for a memorable rematch in this week’s district final.
“They [Loudoun County] really believed they could beat us and it showed,” said Copley.
Woodgrove 38, Loudoun County 35
W: Purnell 17, Hardison 13, Bro. Basinger 3, Lynch 3, Tilly 2
LC: Kushner 9, Knox 8, Phillips 7, Gianelos 6, Tibbits 5
Halftime: Loudoun County, 27-14
3-pointers: WG 1 (Hardison), LC 6 (Kushner 3, Knox 2, Tibbits)
Free throws: WG (15 of 29); LC (11 of 18)
-All photos by Greg Nash