FRONT ROYAL — Randolph-Macon Academy’s girls basketball team is in the midst of a special season.
The Yellow Jackets won the Delaney Athletic Conference regular season title and are now a win away from taking the tournament title as well. R-MA knocked off Chelsea Academy 59-27 Thursday in the DAC tourney semifinals. They will play either Quantico or Tandem Friends at Highland School at 2 p.m. Saturday.
R-MA is 17-2 and has not lost a game in the conference all season, and will most likely earn a bid to play in next week’s state tournament. Last year the Yellow Jackets lost in the DAC final, and the loss has helped motivate the team this season.
“Last year was such a sad loss because we got so far,” R-MA’s Lily Ruch said. “But this year I think we’re going to do better, because we have more of a team bond and we have more of a connection.”
“It definitely motivates me and, I know that it motivates other players on my team,” R-MA’s Liana Trupano said of last year’s tournament final loss. “It really gives me a drive to want to take home the DAC first place.
The Yellow Jackets started off slowly against the Knights as both teams struggled with turnovers in the first period. The two teams combined for 20 turnovers in the opening frame.
R-MA’s Julia Norton and Chelsea Academy’s Hannah Lee each scored four of their teams 6 points in the opening period.
R-MA turned things around in the second period. The Yellow Jackets switched from a man-to-man to a 2-3 zone defense and it worked out well for R-MA.
R-MA coach Jeff Moxie said he wanted to see how his team would do in the man-to-man but when it didn’t work, he quickly switched back to their normal 2-3 zone.
“We’re used to playing 2-3 and waiting for those passes and getting in the passing lanes,” Moxie said. “And then that’s when we started taking over in the second and in the third and it just continued on.”
A basket by Chelsea Academy’s Agnes Wingate and two free throws from teammate Liz Simon gave the Knights their only lead of the game, 10-8, with 6:16 left in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets closed the first half with a 13-0 run for a 22-10 halftime edge. Trupano had 5 points during the surge.
R-MA continued with the momentum in the third period as they outscored the Knights 18-5 to pull away for good.
Ruch had 8 of her 17 points during the third period.
“Lily (Ruch) had a really good game,” Moxie said. “She’s been kind of struggling as of late. She had a couple bad games where her shots weren’t falling for her. She made her first couple shots, made a couple free throws and then got rolling. That was great. We need that. We need her in the finals to play at the top of her game.”
The Knights were led by Liz Simon with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Chelsea Academy coach Tommy Mulvanny said he was happy with how his young squad did this season. The Knights have only had a varsity team for three years.
“We’re a young team and we were expected not to win a game this year and we won five,” Mulvanny said. “We were expected to lose in the opening round (of the DAC tournament) to Wakefield and we beat them by 30. We were close at half (Thursday) and more experience and a little bit better athleticism overcame us.”
Ruch had eight rebounds and seven steals and Trupiano had 17 points, eight rebounds, six steals and five assists for R-MA. Princess Uzoma had six points and 10 rebounds and Norton had six points and seven rebounds for R-MA. The Yellow Jackets, who average 16 steals a game had 23 steals against the Knights.
The Yellow Jackets have most of their players back from last year’s squad and Moxie said that has really made a difference this season.
“We’ve got a couple new pieces, which is Reagan Grove and Taylor Wreath inside,” Moxie said. “We added a couple pieces, but then we kept the core group together where we didn’t have to start all over again. We kind of just started from where we left off last year, and I think we just haven’t looked back yet.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org