At this point, Wise Central girls basketball fans could book a room in Richmond each year for the second weekend in March and not have to worry that much about needing a refund.
Saturday’s VHSL Class 2 title game against Clarke County at VCU’s Siegel Center marks the eighth time in 11 years that defending state champion Wise Central has made the state final. Tipoff between the Lady Eagles and Lady Warriors is set for 4:30 p.m.
Since losing to Floyd County in the 2013 final, the Lady Warriors have won six straight times in the title game.
Their eight title-game appearances are tied, with Floyd County and James Robinson, for fourth most in state history. James Madison, which plays Manchester for the Class 6 title, is third with nine.
“It feels great and it is still exciting knowing that you are playing for the ultimate team prize in high school sports,” longtime Central coach Robin Dotson said. “The excitement in the community and the school is energizing.”
Dotson, now in his 36th season with 717 wins, is making his 11th appearance as a coach and 12th overall. He played for J.J. Kelly in its 1977 Group A championship matchup with Madison County, an 83-56 Indians loss.
Tickets to all VHSL championship games, which are divided into six sessions, must be purchased through the VCU website and are $10. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free if accompanied by an adult.
Fans who exit the Siegel Center will be required to purchase a new online ticket to re-enter. The Siegel Center will be cleared after each session.
ABOUT WISE CENTRAL
Central is led by sophomore Emmah McAmis, who’s averaging 25 points, six rebounds and four assists per game and already has more than 1,500 career points.
McAmis was hampered by an ankle injury suffered in the quarterfinal game against Floyd County and didn’t start Monday’s semifinal. After more rest and recuperation time, look for her to be playing a lot of minutes.
Junior Madison Looney, who also has reached 1,000 points, averages 10 points and nine rebounds. Abbie Jordan is a key cog on offense and defense, averaging 8.5 points and six rebounds. Emilee Brickey chips in with 8.0 points.
Jordan, Brickey and Looney all made key contributions in Monday’s semifinal win over Gate City.
“All of them are playing with a lot of confidence on the offensive end and have improved defensively,” Dotson said.
McAmis moved within two points of breaking a state single-season scoring record for a second straight year with her 18-point effort on Monday. She’s up to 878, one off the sophomore state record Phoebus’ La’Keisha Frett — the VHSL’s all-time leading scorer with 3,290 points and later an All-American at Georgia — set in 1991.
With 22 points Saturday, McAmis would become just the fourth player in VHSL history to score at least 900 in a single season and first since 2008 (Devon Brown, Waynesboro).
“Emmah is the engine that makes us go, and as good as she is, I think she can get better,” Dotson said. “Battling through injuries has been tough for her.”
“Central is a very good team. They are well coached,” Clarke County coach Regina Downing said. “Their players get after you on defense and they are always attacking on offense.”
ABOUT CLARKE COUNTY
The Lady Eagles needed overtime to defeat John Marshall 62-51 in the other semifinal and secure their first championship game appearance since 2007.
“We like to play more of a defensive game,” said Downing, in her 10th season at Clarke County. “Our staple all year has been our attention on the defensive side of the ball.”
According to the Winchester Star story, from the 5:14 mark of the fourth quarter to the 1:12 mark of overtime — a span of 7 minutes, 42 seconds — the two region champions were never separated by more than three points.
Clarke County closed overtime on a 13-1 run, making all three of its field-goal attempts and 7 of 8 foul shots in the last 1:50.
Clarke County is led by 6-foot freshman center Alainah McKavish, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds against the Lady Justices on Monday.
“(Clarke County) has good size and plays a physical style,” Dotson said. “They have a freshman post (McKavish) that has really seemed to get better and better in the postseason.”
The Lady Eagles made 25 of 38 foul shots. They get to the line often because of their aggressive mentality, which is spearheaded senior point guard Hailey Evans. Evans scored 12 in the semifinal win.
Three John Marshall starters fouled out in the fourth quarter and overtime.
WHAT IT WOULD MEAN
The Central awards case is already crowded, but each trophy from each season has its own story. This one has been full of adversity on and off the court.
“We have suffered through some frustrating losses where we didn't play our best," Dotson said. “Not getting the No. 1 seed to the region meant we would have to play several tough games on the road and battle through the better teams.
“One of our beloved seniors from last year, Jill Sturgill, tragically lost her mother in a car accident a couple of weeks ago, and it impacted us all as a close-knit program.”
What is remarkable — and reflects the domination of the Mountain 7 at the state level — is this is the 12th straight year a team from the district has appeared in the Class 2/Group A championship game.
It's also the 16th time in the past 25 years that at least one school — either consolidated or still in existence — from the old Lonesome Pine District has reached the state final.
“Seeing success at the state level inspires all of our district and region teams to believe that they, too, can have that success,” Dotson said. “The support local high school teams have from their communities is very important, too.”