By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Undefeated Millbrook High School may have the best girls basketball team in the area, but even the Pioneers would have to play second fiddle to the home cooking the crowd at Randolph-Macon Academy deals out to an opponent.
Behind that raucous, packed house, the Yellow Jackets advanced to the finals of the Delaney Athletic Conference tournament by defeating Quantico 31-11 on Thursday in a defensive battle.
"This was really exciting," Yellow Jackets point guard Anastasia Voellm said. "The crowd was amazing and really got us focused. Our adrenaline was pumping and we play a lot better when our fans are behind us like that."
The crowd, and Voellm, were the difference in the game. With both sides employing a tight zone, Voellm's ball-handling skills under pressure proved to have a huge factor on the final score.
"I thought that our girls played hard the entire game," Quantico coach Paul Roy said. "They have a good ball handler and we don't. That was the difference."
In the critical first quarter, Voellm's smooth ball handling and crisp passes to teammates against Quantico's aggressive zone defense gave the Yellow Jackets more quality scoring opportunities.
"I've been playing basketball for a long time, and I'm used to that kind of pressure," Voellm said.
Over the first eight minutes of play, the Yellow Jackets committed just two turnovers to Quantico's eight. That resulted in more offensive opportunities, and R-MA took advantage of that to jump ahead 7-1 heading into the second quarter.
"She's the co-player of the year in our conference and her ball handling is the reason why," Yellow Jackets coach George Amos said. "We had the best ball handler tonight, and that was the difference in the game."
Voellm also provided an offensive spark during the opening period when she hit the only 3-pointer of the game. The R-MA freshman finished the night with nine points.
"They're a good ballclub, and she a difference-maker out there," Roy said. "Our problem is that we're very inexperienced and we only have seven players. It's hard to practice real game conditions when you don't have two full teams."
Neither side was able to have much success from the field, but the Yellow Jackets slowly built on their lead through the first three quarters. Although R-MA only converted 3-of-11 field-goal attempts in the second period, the Yellow Jackets were still able to expand their lead to 14-5 by halftime.
"This was a defensive game from start to finish," Amos said. "Both teams played really hard throughout the game. We were able to get the ball into scoring position at times when they were in a man defense, but their zone bothered us all night."
After intermission, the Yellows Jackets' depth and the intensity of the game began to take its toll on the Warriors. Quantico failed to score in the third quarter and trailed 18-5 with just one period to play.
With the Warriors obviously wearying, the Yellow Jackets used their depth and the adrenaline provided by the crowd to finally start connecting offensively. Cara-Elizabeth Brown, who had scored just two points over the first three quarters, lead R-MA with seven fourth-period points and finished the game with nine. Kalie Plasier added four of her eight points in the final eight minutes, leaving no doubt that a miraculous Quantico comeback was out of the question.
Meredith Bell led the Warriors in scoring with five points.
R-MA will face the winner of the Fredericksburg Academy-Wakefield Country Day game in Saturday's DAC championship at Highland School. Game time is 1 p.m.