SVCA catches second wind to beat Tornadoes

By Jeff Nations

STEPHENS CITY — It might not have been the smoothest of starts, but Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy’s girls basketball team will take the finish in Tuesday’s Virginia Association of Christian Athletics (VACA) state quarterfinal round game.

The Patriots dealt with a few nerves in the early going against visiting Timberlake Christian, which led to a few uncharacteristic turnovers and plenty of missed shots in the early going.

But then top-seeded SVCA (16-7) settled down and took care of business, hounding the Tornadoes into 29 turnovers, which produced plenty of easy scoring chances during a 53-18 victory.

“The girls put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed and play well, and continue to advance in the tournament,” Patriots coach Lauren Culler said. “I think that’s what we saw in the first quarter. But they did snap out of it and they did their jobs. They did what they needed to do.”

The Patriots trailed in the first quarter until Samantha Yarnall drained a pull-up jumper in the paint to put her team up 5-4 with 3:14 left in the period, and from then on there was no stopping SVCA. The jumper was part of a 20-2 run that blew the game open by the second quarter.

Patriots guard Grace Snyder said her team just had to get a few jitters out of the way to settle in to state tournament mode. Added to that natural nervousness was the fact that SVCA had not played Timberlake Christian this season, making the fourth-seeded Tornadoes a bit of an unknown.

“There’s a lot of pressure for states, and we’re just learning how to take the pressure since we’re a young team,” Snyder said. “We just had to adjust to a different team.”

Yarnall was an absolute menace in the first half, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the first two quarters alone. She finished with a game-high 22 points to go along with 11 rebounds despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter.

By then, the Patriots were up 43-12 after taking a 20-point lead into halftime (29-9).

“We’ve definitely improved,” Yarnall said. “We’re working on a lot of stuff that just wasn’t happening in the beginning. We’re playing more as a team, playing on our strengths, covering each others’ weaknesses. It’s just been going better.”

Snyder also hit for double digits in scoring with 11 points, and Carol Bartholomew added 11 rebounds.

For the Tornadoes, Darian Finnerty had all but one of the team’s point as she finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Kelsey Gregory added 14 rebounds for Faith Christian.

With the win, the Patriots move on to play Westover Christian in Friday’s state semifinals at Ridgeview Christian in Stuarts Draft. Game time is 6:30 p.m.

“We were able to get players in, which was nice — on Senior Night to get all the seniors in,” Culler said. “It ended up good. I think it will mentally prepare us for what we have to face Friday and Saturday.”