QUICKSBURG – It had been 40 years since Stonewall Jackson High School’s girls basketball team won a regional tournament title. That drought ended on Friday night.
The Generals, who had already booked a trip to next weekend’s VHSL Class 1 state tournament for the first time since 2007, held off visiting Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for a 48-35 victory in Friday’s Region 1B championship. It was the first regional title for the program since 1978, the same year the Generals won their only state title.
“Amazing. First trophy I’ve ever gotten in basketball,” said senior guard J.J. Dellinger, who, along with her teammates, was mobbed at half-court by Stonewall’s student section after she scored 12 points and pulled down 16 rebounds in the win. “It’s just surreal. It’s amazing. It feels nice.
“We’ve never had a big crowd like that come to a game, so them supporting, it meant a lot to us.”
Stonewall’s success against the Dragons (7-16) hinged on how well it could defend ARGS star forward Jada Boyd, who entered the game averaging 37 points per game. Boyd piled up the stats against the Generals – the 6-foot-2 junior finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds, 11 blocks and four steals – but Stonewall (13-13) held Boyd and, in turn, ARGS’s offense scoreless for long stretches. Boyd was 12-for-32 from the field in the loss, while the rest of the Dragons were a combined 2-for-6 shooting.
“It was such a great team effort, and Sara Streett was unbelievable,” longtime Generals coach Jeff Burner said of the senior tasked with guarding Boyd. “… All of our kids play defense, because that’s what we do, but man, she rose to the challenge and she willingly accepted it, so she did it. And we pick on her all the time about getting lazy on defense but I thought tonight she was amazing.”
The Generals didn’t stray from their man-to-man identity against the Dragons’ star, and instead used a physical style and often collapsed as many as four defenders onto Boyd when the ball found its way into the paint. Boyd, who was hobbled by a leg injury she suffered early in the third period, appeared frustrated multiple times throughout the contest.
“It was definitely a mental game,” said Streett, who led the Generals with 14 points and five steals. “We had to get in their heads. We had to show our presence, that it was us. We wanted it. We were gonna do whatever it took. We played our hardest defense. Stonewall Jackson basketball’s backbone is defense. That’s how we win games, that’s what we do, and we just knew that we had to bring it all tonight.”
Stonewall’s defense – which finished with 16 steals among its 27 forced turnovers – harassed Boyd early, forcing the ARGS junior to miss her first four shots before she finally connected on a fastbreak layup for the game’s first bucket with 4:35 left in the opening period. That would be the Dragons only lead of the game, as Streett countered with a 3-pointer from the wing just 20 seconds later.
The Generals carried a 10-6 lead into the second period and, after Boyd scored 6 points during a two-minute span, broke a 12-12 tie with a key 10-0 run to end the first half. Two Stonewall free throws started the run, and junior Emily Dodson (11 points) gave the Generals a jolt when she hit a wide-open 3 from the top of the arc that put Stonewall up 17-12 with 2:20 left in the half.
Dodson hit a spinning bucket in the paint 50 seconds later, then found Dellinger in the corner for a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in the period that sent the Generals into halftime with a 22-12 lead.
“I think it gave us space, some breathing room,” Burner said, “and then I thought we started off the second half with a good little, just a little spurt, just to give ourselves a little bit of breathing room and then we could do some of the things we wanted to do.”
The Generals rode that momentum into the third period, pushing the lead to as many as 19 points in the third period before ARGS made a run during a Stonewall scoring drought that lasted nearly five minutes between the third and fourth quarters.
Boyd’s traditional 3-point play on a fastbreak bucket cut Stonewall’s lead to 37-28 with 4:27 to play, and her putback off a missed three again cut the margin to single digits, capping a 14-4 Dragon run that made the score 39-30 with 2:45 left.
Stonewall, opting for a more conservative approach over the final four minutes of the game, rediscovered its offense to put the game out of reach over the final 2:30. Streett connected on two stickbacks off her own misses in a span of 1:30 while also finding Dellinger wide open in transition for an easy bucket, and Dodson’s basket inside gave the Generals a 47-32 lead with 35 seconds remaining.
“We have the mentality we’re not giving up, not going home in any sort of way,” Streett said. “We’re getting what we want and we’re gonna keep doing it until we get what we want.”
The Generals shot only 28.3 percent (17-for-60) in the win and were 10-for-27 from the free-throw line, but they also held a 42-33 rebounding advantage and were plus-15 in the turnover battle.
“Man, do they have heart and moxie,” Burner said. “We’re not always very pretty obviously, but we find ways, man. We find ways. They’re a tough-nosed group and to come from where they did to here is like amazing to me.”
Stonewall Jackson returns to action in the Class 1 state tournament quarterfinals on March 2 or 3 at Prince Edward County High School. The Generals will take on the loser of the Region 1A championship matchup between Surry County and Lancaster.