CROZET — Western Albemarle girls basketball coach Kris Wright was somber Saturday night following his team’s 41-40 loss to Buffalo Gap in the final game of the fourth annual Play for Preemies Showcase.
The Warriors trailed by six points with three minutes left but used a late push to have a chance to win the game in the final seconds. But the comeback wasn’t in the cards as Natalye Graham’s free throw with 8.7 seconds left lifted the Bison to a 41-40 victory in Crozet.
“We made it a game,” Wright said. “We’re still having issues with certain things that we’re working on that showed up again tonight. So, we’ll just have to keep tinkering and experimenting and then find the right personnel so we can find out who can execute at the end of games, because we’re probably going to be a in a lot of close ones.”
Amaya Lucas was a one-woman wrecking crew throughout the game for Buffalo Gap and nearly single-handedly carried her team to the win. The junior forward scored a game-high 29 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, to give her team a 38-34 lead with 1:09 left.
“We knew she was talented and she proved that,” Wright said. “She did a great job of getting downhill and finishing around the rim, and for the most part, she just kept coming. A lot of times, it’s just about that, will they play? Will they keep coming and she did.”
Western Albemarle (7-3) didn’t go away quietly, however, as Sydney Sherman converted a layup with 36 seconds left to trim the lead to 38-37.
After missing five free throws in a row, Lucas rose to the occasion again with two free throws to make it a three-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Kaylyn Pelletier trimmed the lead to 40-38 with 13.6 left with a free throw and Western Albemarle’s defense forced a jump ball in the back court, giving the Warriors a chance to win the game with less than 13 seconds left.
Buffalo Gap’s defense held tough as Graham stepped in front of a pass and was fouled to force a change of possession. The junior made the second free throw to make it a three-point game with 8.7 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Emma Herring’s 3-pointer was just off the mark, but Caity Driver got the offensive rebound and scored with 0.1 seconds left to make it a one-point game. That was as close as the Warriors would get as the Bison inbounded the ball as the buzzer sounded to snap Western Albemarle’s three-game win streak.
“We didn’t execute great down the stretch, but the problem came long before that,” Wright said. “I felt like I was coaching effort again for two or three quarters, which was frustrating. It’s hard to make adjustments when you can’t get the enthusiasm and the talking that you need to get yourself going. We’ve gotten better at that, but we had a little back slip tonight.”
Claran Massie finished with seven points in the win for Buffalo Gap. Graham chipped in three more for the Bison.
Sherman had 15 points to lead Western Albemarle. Mattie Shearer added six points and seven steals and Driver finished with five more.
For Wright, Saturday’s result was minute compared to the big picture of the event, which raises money for the University of Virginia and Carilion children’s hospitals.
“I’m disappointed that we lost, but today is more than about us,” he said. “We raised a lot of awareness today. We raised a lot of money. We had four close games, competitive one- or two-possession games, so we did a lot for girls basketball on top of that. When you’re accomplishing all those things in one day, it’s still a good day, even though you’d like to win at the end of it.”