The last time a Commonwealth District girls basketball team won a Northwest Region first round game was in 1998.
That team was Stafford.
The location was Stafford High School.
The opponent was Woodbridge High School, the Cardinal District runner-up.
The key for the Indians was building up a big enough lead to hold off the always-tenacious Vikings.
On Monday, the Indians did just that, jumping to a nine-point lead in the second quarter but it wasn’:t enough as the Vikings charged back, behind stifling full-court pressure, and prevailed 39-32.
With the win, Woodbridge improved to 21-6 on the season and gained a spot in the region semifinals at Franklin County.
“We don’:t always shoot the ball that well,” said Woodbridge veteran coach George Washington. “So everyone has started playing us zone. We are getting used to dealing with it but couldn’:t hit any shots early.”
Stafford, the Commonwealth District regular season and playoff champion, came out in a sagging 2-3 zone that the visitors were unable to exploit. By the second quarter, because of the inability of the Woodbridge guards to hit from the outside, the Vikings started forcing the ball inside. As a result, Stafford freshman center Chanelle Downing came away with four straight steals that ignited a 6-0 run for the Indians. When Amanda Roberts hit a runner for the Indians with a minute left in the half and Meaghan Reiley sank two foul shots, the home team was up nine at 22-13.
Woodbridge’:s Chinyere Ukoh hit a long jumper at the buzzer for intermission to cut the deficit to seven.
The third quarter, behind the presence of senior Whitney Allen, was all Woodbridge. Allen, who is headed to George Washington University to play next season, found a seam at the top of the lane of the 2-3 zone and provided sudden offense for the Vikings. Allen scored eight points in the quarter and ignited a 10-2 run that saw the visitors take the lead for good at 29-28 with 1:23 left in the third quarter. The Vikings’: pressure forced 10 turnovers in the quarter for Stafford.
“Whitney didn’:t play much in the second quarter,” Washington said. “When she came out and hit a couple of shots, it started to open things up for us. But the real key was our defensive pressure. We started to get some deflections and good solid traps. That created turnovers and we able to convert.
“I always say you win games by playing good defense and hitting your free throws.”
Allen finished with a game-high 16 points and eight rebounds for the Vikings while Diana Martinez, another senior, chipped in with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
In the fourth quarter Woodbridge did its best to bring Stafford out of the effective zone by holding the ball on the perimeter. With 6:28 left to play and a three-point lead (31-28), the Vikings were in no hurry. It wasn’:t until the 5:15 mark before they even attempted a shot. From there, the contest became a parade of Stafford fouls that sent Woodbridge to the line seven times. However, the Vikings’: inability to connect left the door open for the Indians but they were unable to take advantage.
Woodbridge finished the contest 5 of 19 from the free throw line but it was the defense, which forced 27 Stafford turnovers, and limited the home team to only 10 second-half points that established the result.
Downing, who plays AAU ball for Woodbridge’:s Coach Washington, paced the Indians with 12 points while Hanna Taylor ended the night with eight points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
In the final minute of the game, Stafford coach Julie Hinckley put all four seniors — Taylor, Meaghan Reiley (four points, five rebounds, four assists), Roberts (four points, three assists) and Lindsey Piester (two points, two rebounds) — in the game for their final home game.
“That was a moment devoted to the seniors,” Hinckley said. “They helped this team to develop an attitude of always leaving it on the floor. These girls believe in what they were doing and took us to a new level.”
Taylor, who finished a brilliant career that will more than likely will be a finalist for district player of the year honors, summed it up best.
“I’:m a little disappointed but it stills feel good that we had such a great season,” she said. “We really came together. We did our best and came away with a regular season and playoff title. And no one really expected us to do that.”