By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
At the end of the T.C. Williams girls basketball team’s win over Lake Braddock in the first round of the Patriot conference tournament February 19, Lady Titans head coach Kesha Walton said “the sky is the limit” on how far the team can go in the postseason.
After that 39-35 victory at home to the Bruins, T.C. has continued to reach higher and higher, winning the Patriot conference title for the first time since 2013 on Sunday, then by beating Osbourn 65-53 in the first round of the Virginia High School League 6A North regional tournament Tuesday night.
The Lady Titans faced Fairfax in the regional quarterfinals Wednesday night, after the Times’ print deadline. A win over the Rebels would secure the team both a spot in the regional semifinals and a berth in the state quarterfinals.
T.C. entered the Patriot tournament as the No. 3 seed, and after taking care of No. 6 Lake Braddock, the team beat No. 7 Mount Vernon 43-32 in the semifinals the following day. Then, the final saw the Lady Titans take on No. 1 West Springfield and win 69-66 in overtime, led by 25 points from freshman guard Trinity Palacio. After the final, Palacio was named tournament MVP.
“I think that’s really big for them, just because they’re young,” said Walton. “My main thing for them is I want them to get a taste for it so they want to go back. That was huge; it elevated our confidence and let us know that when we put our mind to it and go after it, we can achieve it.”
After that exhilarating win over the Spartans, T.C. had to refocus for the regional tournament, which began at home against Osbourn and ended in another victory. The Lady Titans continued their offensive momentum from the previous games and made effective use of a defensive press that hustled the Eagles into making several ball-handling mistakes.
Such defensive pressure requires a great deal of stamina from the team, so Walton said the tactic was used sparingly to try and avoid fatigue.
“It’s kind of tough with this crazy schedule due to the snow and stuff, so we’ve had to manage that,” she said. “We had a light practice yesterday talking about [our] game plan, and were ready to take care of business today.”
T.C.’s offense against Osbourn was led by juniors Bhrandi Crenshaw with 11 points and Kaily Kocot, who had 10 points, including two consecutive 3-point shots at the end of the second quarter that helped the Lady Titans stretch their advantage from 2 points to 8 at the buzzer.
“We’ve worked a lot at [offense],” Kocot said. “The past few practices have been just shooting because that was our weakness, but now it’s getting to be one of our strengths.”
The games could keep coming thick and fast for T.C. if the team can keep its season alive with a win at home over Fairfax. The regional semifinals will be held on February 26 at Lake Braddock, with the final the following day at South County. The VHSL quarterfinals then begin on March 4, if the Lady Titans make it that far.
Such tight scheduling is a hallmark of postseason basketball, and the players said they try and do everything they can to avoid fatigue setting in.
“It’s tiring, but we know we’ve got to take our rest and eat healthily, because we know we’ve got a big game at the end of school so we know we’ve got to rest and eat healthy and do what we’ve got to do to win,” Crenshaw said.
Despite the crunched scheduling, it has been quite an experience for the young T.C. team, which has guard Ajuanae Nelson as its only senior this season.
“It feels great,” Palacio said after the win over Lake Braddock. “Freshman year, you strive for the best but you don’t really expect this stuff. It’s a lot of fun.”