SUSSEX — Two-point halves won’t win many basketball games at any level, especially when the only field goal comes in the second half of a one-point game.
Riverheads’ girls basketball season crashed and burned Tuesday night at the most inopportune time when the Gladiators managed only two points over the final 16 minutes in a 37-23 loss to the Surry County Cougars in the Class 1 state semifinals played at Sussex Central High School.
The Gladiators’ season ended at the same point as last year when Surry County won 74-54, also on the Sussex Central court.
But this time around Riverheads had high hopes that the third meeting between the schools, and the second in 11 days after losing 50-44 at Surry County in the Region 1B championship, would have a more favorable outcome. No such luck as the Gladiators played one of their worse games of the season in being held to a season-low in points.
For long stretches, especially in the brutal second half, Riverheads played like it was the first preseason scrimmage than a state semifinal.
The Gladiators had self-inflicted wounds from every angle possible, ranging from scoring only 10 field goals to committing 25 turnovers and going 3-of-12 from the foul line.
And to make matters even worse, Riverheads’ two main scoring threats Berkeley Tyree and Hannah Grubb combined for only six points, all by Tyree, who fouled out with 5:30 remaining in the game. Grubb had two fouls in the game’s opening 2:09 and didn’t play the rest of the first half, and never got into any offensive flow after halftime. It was her first scoreless game of the season.
Riverheads had every opportunity to make an early statement, jumping to a 6-0 lead as the Cougars missed their first 11 shots and committed four turnovers. The Gladiators could have easily had a double-digit lead, but suffered from their own missed shots and turnovers.
“We had every opportunity to establish ourselves early,” Riverheads first-year head coach Preston Woods said. “We were getting stop after stop, but never capitalized on the other end. I lost count of how many layups we failed to convert. We should have been up 10, 12 or more.”
The Cougars don’t score until the 2:24 mark of the first quarter, but only trailed 6-4 after a turnover and layup with 1:53 left.
Riverheads regrouped in the final minute when Dayton Moore hit 1-of-2 free throws and Mackenzie Sacra converted off the break for a 9-4 margin after one period.
The Gladiators extended the lead to 13-6 on a Tyree basket in the paint, but Surry County’s NeOndra Kelly started a 3-point blitz with a pair and Amanda Jones hit one before JerRhonda King hit a free throw, tying the game for the first time at 16 with 3:51 left in the half.
Sacra, playing off the bench and having the game of her life, kept the Gladiators out front at 20-17 with two short jumpers. Surry County used the foul line when Tyree got her second and third fouls in a span of 58 seconds for a 5-0 run to grab its first lead at 22-20 with 26 seconds on the clock.
Savanna Crawford’s free throw left the Gladiators trailing 22-21 at the break despite 13 turnovers and a 3-of-10 effort at the line.
One could sense Surry County was like a cat with a mouse, just toying with it before the fatal bite. That bite came in the third quarter.
The Cougars started the period with a game-breaking 6-0 spurt that featured two second-chance baskets and a 12-footer from Bre’cha Byrd.
“They got more physical in the second half, and we just got timid and lost our focus,” Woods said. “Our youth started to show up.”
Sacra, who finished with 10 points, had what turned out to be Riverheads’ only second-half points to temporary stop the bleeding, but the Byrd scored the final four points as the Cougars took a commanding 32-23 advantage.
When Surry County got the lead, the Cougars pulled the ball out, daring the Gladiators play them tight.
“We simply couldn’t match up with them once they went into the stall,” Woods said.
The Cougars scored only five points from the foul line in the fourth quarter, which was more than enough as Riverheads couldn’t get into form of an offense against the quick, pressing Surry County defense. The Gladiators had six turnovers apiece in the third and fourth periods, most on bad passes into the teeth of the defense.
“This was been us all year, not consistent for 32 minutes,” Woods said.
The Cougars are now headed to their third straight title game at the Siegel Center in Richmond at 6 p.m. Thursday to play Patrick Henry-Glade Spring, which ousted Honaker 37-29. They lost the last two years to Parry McCluer.
Despite the loss, the future remains bright for the Gladiators as they lose only two reserves in Faith Bryan and Sophia Leigh.
“We will learn from what happened tonight and get better for next year,” Woods said. “We have to get a lot stronger to keep teams from taking rebounds away from us.”