On new stage, Stonewall girls find comfort in the familiar things

Stonewall's Kelsey Hines, left, and Emily Dodson, right, celebrate the final seconds of their win. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – The nerves were certainly there for Stonewall Jackson High School’s girls basketball team during Saturday’s Virginia High School League Class 1 state quarterfinal game against Lancaster.

A few of the Generals admitted as much following their 36-26 win, but the evidence of such was apparent throughout Saturday’s contest. Several Stonewall passes sailed well wide of their targets. The Generals were whistled for 16 turnovers and seemed at times to be playing too fast. On more than a few occasions, wide-open looks under the basket missed quite badly.

“I thought we were a little sketchier than normal on some of the layups, especially in the first half,” Generals head coach Jeff Burner said after the win. “… We miss layups sometimes but we don’t shoot it 5 feet over the rim. We did that like three times, three or four times. Some of that’s nerves and stuff.

“You’ve got nerves, you’ve got those types of things,” he added, “but luckily your defense is there just about every night.”

Such was the key to the Generals’ success against the Red Devils. Stout defense has been a staple of Stonewall girls basketball this winter, and its familiarity on Saturday night provided a lift in an unfamiliar and, at times, unsettling stage.

So too did a very large and very vocal home crowd, which made the short half-hour trip to nearby Strasburg High School to give what turned out to be some ever important emotional support to a Generals program making its first state tournament appearance in over a decade.

“It’s exciting to have this much support and the crowd was cheering and the stands were packed. All you saw was black,” Generals junior forward Emily Dodson said.

“It kind of boosted us a little bit. … I thought the crowd was really loud and really good and helped us through a lot. They cheered us on and they made sure nobody was ever down in their heads or anything like that. They were still cheering.”

The Generals’ defense provided plenty to cheer about in a game between two offensively challenged teams. Stonewall limited Lancaster to just 15.9 percent shooting, forced the Red Devils into 20 turnovers and held them to their lowest scoring output of the season.

Stonewall’s own offense was lackluster – the Generals hit only 12 of 44 shots (27.2 percent) from the floor and 9 of 19 free throws while turning the ball over 16 times – and the word “jittery” was one of the first out of the mouths of seniors LuLu Funkhouser and J.J. Dellinger when they described the victory.

“They were there,” Dellinger replied when asked about the nerves that came with playing in the team’s first state tournament game since 2007. “We were moving way too quick. We needed to calm down but eventually we set in. I think we just need to calm down a little bit next game.”

That next game will be against Surry County (27-2) in Tuesday’s state semifinal. The Generals should again expect to have a healthy home crowd in attendance – the game is once again at Strasburg – and, perhaps most importantly, they’ve gotten a taste of the state tournament experience.

“Having it done and getting ready for Tuesday, I think we’ll be a lot better,” Funkhouser said of Saturday’s outcome.