WINCHESTER — This time, the last-second thriller went to Sherando.
Handley’s McKenzie Jolliffe attempted 3-pointer from the right corner just before the buzzer rimmed out and Sherando’s Ashton Clark grabbed the rebound to allow the Warriors to hold on for a dramatic 46-44 win on Friday night at the Judges’ Maddex-Omps Gymnasium.
On Jan. 15, it was Handley who won 45-43 in Stephens City on Taylor Beard’s putback with four seconds left.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said a laughing Clark, who scored a game-high 23 points, of Jolliffe’s 3-pointer. “Luckily, it turned out good for us.”
As a result, the Warriors are now in pretty good shape for the postseason.
Sherando (10-12, 7-5 Class 4 Northwestern District) finished tied for third with Handley (14-7, 7-5) in the final district standings, but the Warriors won the tiebreaker and will be the third seed for the district tournament. They will host No. 6 Fauquier (6-16, 3-9) at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The tiebreaker was each team’s performance against No. 5 Liberty — the Warriors swept them while Handley split with the Eagles.
By getting the third seed, Sherando won’t be forced to beat Millbrook to earn an automatic Region 4C tournament berth because the Pioneers are on the other half of the bracket. Millbrook (12-0 in district play) has already locked up one of the two Region 4C tournament berths awarded to the Northwestern District as a result of winning the district regular-season title.
Sherando — which has won five straight district games — has a lot to feel good about.
“Four weeks ago, things were looking pretty bleak,” Marsh said. “We were looking at fifth or sixth. We’ve moved up to third. I’m pretty happy with that, and the girls are, too.”
The Warriors had to make up some serious ground in the second half to do it.
Led by Taylor Beard (11 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks in the first half, but just one point, five rebounds and one block after halftime), the Judges led 23-15 at the half. The Warriors set up in a pack line defense in the first half with Clark playing at the top of the key, but the Judges scored a lot of points in transition before Sherando could set up. The Warriors made only 6 of 28 shots in the first half and had 12 turnovers.
But in the third quarter the Warriors took away those transition points and kept Beard off the boards, and they went on a 11-0 run capped by a jumper by Clark to take a 26-23 lead with 2:21 left in the period. Sherando led 33-28 after three quarters, committing only one turnover while holding the Judges to 1-of-7 shooting and outrebounding them 9-4.
With 5:32 left in the fourth quarter, Sherando expanded its lead to 38-28 on a bucket by Ciara Gaither, and the Warriors looked to be in firm control given the Judges’ depth situation. Handley point guard Neysha Washington was declared out shortly before Friday’s game as a result of a foot injury she suffered earlier this week, and defensive stalwart Kiah McFarlane was lost for the game with 4:48 left in the third quarter.
But the Judges fought back, and when Taylor Cannon (10 points) banked in a 3-pointer following a Handley offensive rebound of a missed free throw, the Judges trailed 42-40 with 2:09 left to make the fans who came out for Senior Night roar in appreciation. Jolliffe (team-high 15 points, 8 of 10 free throws) missed a chance to tie the game when she missed her second free throw attempt, leaving the Warriors with a 42-41 lead with 2:01 left.
But in the final 65 seconds, Asia James scored two huge buckets to help keep Handley at bay.
The team’s second-leading scorer (10.3 points per game) had just one point until the game’s closing moments.
Not long after a Sherando steal, James circled around the perimeter on the left side of the floor before driving the lane and scoring on a layup with 1:05 left to make it 44-41. (James was fouled on the play, but she missed the free throw.)
After a Jolliffe basket made it 44-43, the 5-foot-5 James came up big again. Clark missed a 3-pointer from the right side, and Cannon got a hand on the rebound. But before Cannon could control it, James swooped in to grab the ball, and her putback off the glass made it 46-43 with 34 seconds left.
“[James] struggled a ton tonight,” Marsh said. “But when we needed her to compose herself, she composed herself. Early on she was pressing and tried to do too much, and she got in a little bit of foul trouble and we sat her for a while. At the end, she did what she needed to do. She’s been playing like that all year and is a smart player, it’s just things weren’t going her way at times tonight.”
A Joliffe free throw made it 46-44 with 22 seconds left. The Judges then gave themselves a chance to win when their press forced Bella Entsminger into a wild pass that sailed out of bounds with 13 seconds left.
Entsminger came up big on the other end though. She knocked the ball out of Jolliffe’s hands when she tried a deep 3-pointer from the top of the arc, leading to a held ball in which the Judges retained possession.
She didn’t make it easy for the Judges when Jolliffe caught the ball in the right corner for her final shot, forcing an off-balance shot that Marsh thought just might go in. But it rimmed out, giving Sherando an emotional win.
“I think we deserved it,” Clark said. “We’ve been climbing up the ladder and putting things together to get better.”
“We’re playing for each other, and playing with heart,” James said.
Haley Byrnes added seven points and three steals for Sherando.