By Jeff Nations
QUICKSBURG -- Based on that season record, Stonewall Jackson's girls basketball team had no business hosting a Region B tournament quarterfinal game on Tuesday night.
Yet the Generals did just that by blazing through last week's Shenandoah District tournament field to reach the championship game, held at Eastern Mennonite University, and earn their way into regionals.
Maybe they left all that momentum in Harrisonburg.
Maybe Madison County brought its own momentum.
Maybe it just wasn't the Generals' night.
If you could pinpoint the issue -- maybe -- you could fix it.
Stonewall (8-18) won't get the chance, after the Mountaineers shook off a sluggish start early to earn a 47-38 victory and move on to Thursday's semifinal round at Amherst High School.
The run is done for the Generals, but simply getting this far was a surprise to many.
"We were there, in like every game," Stonewall Jackson senior Rhea Jett said. "There were just a few stretches where we would lose it. But I think the team really stepped up and we got so much better than we were at the beginning of the season."
Generals coach Jeff Burner knows that, seeing it every day in practice and most nights on the court. Stonewall had a long way to come, and the Generals came a long way.
"We played everybody tough, all year," Burner said. "It was nice to see the kids get some breaks down the stretch. For a team that caught so many bad breaks, was in so many tight games and lost so many close ones, they never quit. And so I really appreciate that."
The fourth-seeded Generals seemed to have a bit of that magic left over in the first quarter against fifth-seeded Madison County (15-8). Michaela Koontz answered a game-opening 3-pointer by the Mountaineers' Alexis Smith with one of her own, Erin Goodier tallied a pair of field goals and Jett connected on a pair of free throws to help Stonewall grab a 9-3 lead.
The Mountaineers, plagued by foul trouble from the beginning, charged back after trailing 12-8 at the end of the opening quarter. Chandler Gentry's 3-pointer capped an 8-0 run early in the second quarter that put Madison up 16-13 with 4:17 left in the half. Stonewall grabbed that lead back on Hannah Stout's 3-pointer with 52 seconds left in the half, but the Mountaineers' Brea Johnson tied it at 19-all heading into the half by sinking a pair of free throws.
Stonewall ran into foul trouble early in the third quarter, as Goodier picked up her fourth 13 seconds in and had to sit. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers were busy building a seven-point lead. Abby Erb had five with a made free throw and back-to-back field goals.
The Generals cut it to four on Stout's free throw, but Gentry struck with another 3-pointer with 4:10 left in the quarter. Stonewall got back within three on Jett's two made free throws -- Gentry answered with a runner in the lane. Koontz (team-high 10 points) sliced the deficit back to three (31-28) with a made jumper -- Gentry answered again with another 3-pointer.
"We got into a little bit of foul trouble and decided we were going to play a little bit of zone," Burner said. "We don't do it very well. So that was my bone-headed decision. We didn't pick up the shooter."
After fits and starts in the first half, Mountaineers coach Katherine Johnson was glad to see her offense finally get going in the third quarter. Gentry (game-high 19 points) was the key factor.
"We try to penetrate and get it to her," Johnson said. "Usually if she's set, it's dead-eye. She's a very good ballplayer."
The Generals still had time, and again got within three points when Stout turned a mid-court steal into a rare layup to pull her team within 36-33 with 5:31 left.
Gentry, once more, squelched the rally with a pair of made free throws and another crucial 3-pointer that forced Stonewall into full catch-up mode.
"We struggle to score, anyhow," Burner said. "Once they got that little working margin in the third quarter, it's always tough for us."
Koontz finished with a double-double for Stonewall with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Jett and Stout had nine points apiece.
For Madison County, Renee Lucas just missed a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds and Alexis Smith had nine points.
"There was so much stoppage, there was never really any flow," Johnson said. "So there was never really any running on our part because it was a whistle or something during the game ... you'd play 10 seconds, and there was a stoppage. But I give it to Stonewall -- they defended Gentry and made us do some things we don't normally do."
Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at 540-465-5137 ext. 161 or at firstname.lastname@example.org