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Thomas Edison halts Freedom’s run in state semifinals

Freedom junior Jaelyn Batts rises for a shot during a Virginia Class 5 girls’ basketball semifinal game versus Thomas Edison. Batts scored a game-high 19 points in a 49-32 loss.—Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
The gymnasium at John Champe High School has become a second home for the Freedom High School girls’ basketball program lately, securing multiple wins at the site over the last few weeks. On March 6, Freedom found itself there once again.

This time, the stakes were higher than ever before. Two teams — Freedom and Thomas Edison — battling for the chance to play under the bright lights of Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center in the Virginia Class 5 girls’ basketball tournament championship game.

Only one team could advance, the other, unfortunately, would have a bow put on their respective season.

Even with so much riding on the outcome, there was another underlying storyline of note. Not that the two teams share the same nickname (Eagles), but the fact that they recently shared the same court Feb. 23 in the Region 5C championship game at Freedom High School.

In that game, the Freedom Eagles rolled to a 56–46 victory in front of their hometown crowd. This time, despite a vocal contingent of supporters on hand, the hometown Eagles fell short. Edison, thirsty for revenge and armed with a revamped game plan, beat Freedom by a score of 49–32.

Edison jumped out to an early lead, combining a furious full-court press with timely shooting from the outside. Before you could blink, Edison led 9–0.

Freedom, in spite of the pressure, wound up getting several open looks late in the first quarter but could not capitalize. At the end of the quarter, Edison led 15–8.

Unfortunately for Freedom, the second quarter was worse than the first. Edison threw all sorts of schemes at junior standout Jaelyn Batts to slow her down, sending double-teams constantly. Sometimes, Batts even found herself with three Edison defenders crowding her.

The misses and turnovers piled up for Freedom, while the points piled up for Edison. Going into halftime, Freedom trailed 29–14.

The third quarter saw Batts shake free from Edison’s game-plan. She scored seven of Freedom’s 11 third-quarter points, including the sequence that woke up Freedom’s fans right before the period concluded.

With 20 seconds left, Batts picked off a pass on defense, converted a layup to cut the lead to 38–25, then spearheaded a defensive stand on Edison’s final possession of the quarter. It wasn’t anything crazy, but for the first time in what felt like forever, Freedom had life.

Now holding the momentum, Batts scored the first basket of the fourth quarter to trim the lead to 11. No one said it, but the feeling was that if Freedom could just get the deficit into single digits, anything could happen.

Regrettably, the collective hope for a Freedom comeback was dashed just moments later. CiCi Harris from Edison nailed a 3-pointer to extend its lead to 41–27, quieting the sea of black instantly.

From there, it was pretty much over. Edison would outscore Freedom 8–5 down the stretch to secure its spot in the state championship game.

The season, albeit a magical one, officially came to a close for Freedom just two wins shy of a state title. And while the defeat cut deep for all parties involved, Freedom players walked off the court gracefully, exhibiting the kind of class that only comes from the best of programs.

Freedom, groomed all season by head coach Teddy Whitney and his hard-working staff, beat the odds, winning 26 games. The Eagles took home multiple pieces of hardware: most notably a district and regional championship trophy.

Thomas Edison 49, Freedom 32

F: Batts 19, Burnham 4, Meador 4, Wolin 3, Maier 2

TE: Miller 14, Harris 10, Gray 9, Jewell 8, Johns 3, Lee 3, Henderson 2

Halftime: TE 29-14

3-pointers: F 1 (Wolin); TE 4 (Gray, Harris, Lee, Miller)

Free throws: Freedom (9–18); Thomas Edison (15–21)

Photos by Rick Wasser


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