By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Jim McElhatton)
The T.C. Williams Lady Titans were exactly where they expected to be last week, facing rival West Springfield in the conference finals.
T.C. and the Lady Spartans split their two regular-season matchups, and eventually, they tied for first in the conference. But while the conference final game was close through the first half Friday, West Springfield’s Amy Burglund made the difference, scoring 21 of her 28 points in the second half.
Down 53-40 with about five minutes left, T.C. tried to make a run when Grace Peterson forced a turnover on a blocked layup. But — emblematic of how the night went for the Lady Titans — two T.C. players bumped into each other as they hustled up the floor, jarring the ball loose.
West Springfield recovered, and Burglund scored on an easy layup.
Junior Rejoice Spivey, who was named to the all-tournament team after the game, looked disconsolate watching from the bench as West Springfield celebrated their 70-58 win.
“It was just one of those nights, they played well,” she said. “We played a game last night and they had a day off, so that didn’t help us either.”
The loss marked the first defeat of 2014 for the Lady Titans, who went 4-5 in the regular season before going undefeated after the new year.
“We just started really playing together and wanting to see each other do good,” Spivey said. “We worked hard on defense. I think we definitely played better during the streak.”
T.C. opened the regional tournament a few nights later on Monday with a win over McLean, which seemed much like the West Springfield game until late in the third quarter.
The Lady Titans were down 36-30 but then went on a 10-point run to go up by four. McLean fought back, though. With T.C. clinging to a 43-42 lead, Tykera Carter hit a pair of clutch free throws that gave the Lady Titans enough of a cushion to withstand a last-second basket by McLean.
The one-point win meant the Lady Titans picked up right where they left off after West Springfield snapped their 15-game winning streak. But they traveled to Stonewall Jackson High School on Tuesday night and faced a far tougher opponent.
Though the score was tied late, Stonewall Jackson pulled out the win, 51-47 — despite 17 points from Peterson and 15 from Spivey.
“The girls fought hard,” T.C. coach Kesha Walton said after the game. “We had a good season.”
Still, it wasn’t the ending Walton hoped for earlier in the season. Walton said she likes to schedule difficult opponents early on so that her team’s ready and battle-tested for the playoffs in February.
“I believe that to be the best, you’ve got play the best,” said Walton, whose squad snapped a 36-game winning streak by North Point last month.
But sometimes, despite all of the preparation, there are nights when the shots just won’t fall, she added.
“We went into the tournament with high expectations,” Walton said after the team’s final game. “We started off a little streaky. That was a challenge early in the year, but we went undefeated in the regular season this year and we never lost a game on our home court.
“I’m proud of the girls. They worked hard and fought all the way.”