By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Just when Massanutten Academy's girls basketball team started to run out of steam, host Randolph-Macon Academy started heating up on Thursday.
The visiting Colonels outscored the Yellow Jackets in each of the first three quarters and looked poised to pull off the victory before R-MA came storming back over the final eight minutes to grab a 52-49 victory.
It was an especially sweet victory for the Yellow Jackets, coming on Senior Night against the rival Colonels.
"I just came in with high hopes that we'd win," R-MA senior forward Elenda Nwandu said. "There was a lot of pressure. It's Senior Night and our last home game. Everybody wanted to win and end it on a good note."
Massanutten Academy (5-5) was hitting all the right notes for much of the night, as the Colonels' three-headed attack of point guard Mara Dorsey and forwards Selah Applin and Chelsea Reid looked like more than the Yellow Jackets could handle.
The Colonels opened the game on a 7-0 run and ended the first quarter with a four-point lead at 15-11, then expanded that slightly in the second quarter. Dorsey (game-high 20 points) did much of the damage for Massanutten with 13 first-half points as the Colonels headed into the halftime break with a 30-25 lead.
Behind five more points from Dorsey, the Colonels pushed their lead to 42-35 by the end of the third quarter despite having to sit Applin (11 points, 15 rebounds) for half the period with foul trouble.
R-MA (4-7) proved the fresher team over the final eight minutes, though, as a made free throw and a layup off a steal by Maddy Chafin (team-high 15 points) and Nwandu's basket in the paint pulled the Yellow Jackets back to within two at 42-40 with 6:45 to play.
The Colonels regrouped, and Reid's made free throw with 3:40 to go capped a 7-2 run that pushed their lead back to 49-44. That's when R-MA reserve Angel Murphy came to the rescue. Murphy's two offensive putback sandwiched around a made free throw by RMA's Emmanuela Imansuangbon tied the score at 49-all with 1:21 to play.
The Colonels missed a chance to go ahead when Applin couldn't connect on a pair of free throws with less than a minute to play, and Imansuangbon gave her team the lead by hitting two free throws with 19 seconds to go.
Massanutten Academy missed an open layup on the other end, and Murphy sank one of two free throws to stretch the lead to three with nine seconds to play.
With time running out, the Colonels turned once more to Dorsey. She brought through R-MA's press to get off a 3-point attempt but couldn't knock it down.
"I'm really proud of the girls," Massanutten Academy coach Ryan Byrne said. "They played their butts off. The shots didn't drop, but we executed the plays at the end perfectly. That's all you can ask for."
Byrne said his team simply wore down late in the game.
"I kept seeing new [R-MA] players coming in and out," said Dorsey, whose team lost in double overtime to R-MA last year. "It's just hard for us because we don't have a big program like other people. We just do what we have to do."
Reid added a double-double with 10 points and 18 rebounds, teaming with Applin to give the Colonels a dominant frontcourt.
Imansuangbon also had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Nwandu and Murphy added nine points each in the win.
Even in the loss, Dorsey's stellar play stood out.
"True competitor, gives it her all every night," Byrne said. "I'm going to miss her when she leaves. I couldn't have asked for any more from her. She controlled the game and gave us a chance to win."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>