FORT DEFIANCE — Stuarts Draft doesn’t have a horse in the Region 3C playoff chase in the Shenandoah District, but the Cougars certainly threw that regional race into chaos Friday night.
The Cougars, coming off one of their worse performances of the season Tuesday night, put it back together against first-place Fort Defiance, knocking off the Indians 61-56 in overtime in a girls basketball thriller.
Draft, which suffered a 67-52 loss at Wilson Memorial in its last outing, took a 24-17 halftime lead and then time and time again thwarted Fort rallies in the second half and the extra session. The Cougars’ Lyndsay Harris scored the final four points of overtime from the foul line to seal the victory.
“Basketball is a game of runs, and it is a matter of how you counter those runs,” Draft head coach Brad DeWitt said. “We stayed focused and maintained our composure every time Fort came back at us.”
Fort (15-4, 6-2) came into the county clash with a one-game lead over Wilson for the district’s automatic Region 3C berth, which goes to the team with the best district record. With the stinging loss and the Hornets’ 66-59 win over Buffalo Gap, the teams are deadlocked going into Tuesday’s massive showdown in Fishersville.
The winner takes a one-game lead back and into the regular-season finales next Friday. Should both end up tied, a special playoff is scheduled for Feb. 18 at a neutral site. All is not lost for the loser as it still has an excellent shot at the region’s lone at-large bid, especially the Indians. In the latest Region 3C power ratings, Fort sits at No. 4, while Wilson is No. 7. The top 8 teams receive regional berths.
While Fort and Wilson are having their own personal battle, Stuarts Draft (12-5, 5-3) is solidly in the Region 2B field. The Cougars started the week virtually locked into the No. 3 slot, which brings a first-round home game.
Draft, playing with starter McKinley Fitzgerald who has a concussion, stifled Fort’s first rally to begin the second half when four 3-pointers, two by Kiersten Ransome, gave the Indians a 31-29 lead at the 3:45 mark.
The Indians opened a 34-31 margin, but Draft scored the quarter’s final five points, capped by Megan Fretwell’s 3, for a 36-34 margin.
Fort tied the game at 39 and 46 in the fourth period before Brianna Allen’s steal and coast-to-coast layup put the Indians ahead 48-46 with 43 seconds left. But Fort had a defensive breakdown on an inbounds pass, allowing Hadley May to break free at the basket for the tying score and overtime when the Indians couldn’t hit a last-second shot.
The Cougars scored the first five points of overtime on May’s basket in the paint and Sorrells’ fourth triple, and Draft never gave up the lead the rest of the way.
“We had two good days of practice after the Wilson loss,” DeWitt said. “I challenged the girls to have more energy and intensity. I am so proud how they responded and played.”
The low-scoring first quarter ended in an 8-all stalemate thanks to equal parts of cold shooting and five turnovers by each team.
“We can’t get off to slow starts like that,” Fort head coach Patrick Hartley said. “We talked about that before the game. We turned the ball over too much in the quarter, and that carried over into the second. We had no rhythm out there.”
But the Cougars suddenly hit Fort with a 10-1 burst to begin the second period, doubling the margin to 18-9 at the 5:44 mark. Harris had a 3 in the middle of the run, while Fretwell capped it with a bomb from the left wing.
The Indians tried to make a couple charges, but Sorrells’ two 3s stymied each attempt as the Cougars led 24-17 at the break. Sorrells finished the game with a team-high 18 points.
“We just didn’t perform the whole night,” Hartley said. “We never could string anything together after taking the lead a couple times in the second half.”
The Cougars begin the regular-season’s final week Tuesday with a home game against Staunton.
Fort claimed the jayvee game 28-21. Trinity Hedrick and Mia Alexander each had eight points for the Indians, while Taliyah Hostetter added seven. For the Cougars, Anna Smith had a game-high nine.