Connolly’s big night helps her team keep playing
VIRGINIA 6A GIRLS’ BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS
Maddie Royle stomped her foot, unleashed a frustrated cry and drew a whistle that appeared to put Oakton’s chances of advancing to an elusive state championship in serious jeopardy. With 5:40 left in the second quarter of Saturday’s 6A state semifinal at Robinson, Royle picked up a personal foul and a technical.
The 6-foot-1 American commit headed to the bench with four fouls.
“My heart dropped a little bit,” Oakton forward Delaney Connolly said.
From that moment on, Connolly did more than just pick up the slack for her marooned teammate. The 6-foot senior finished with a season-high 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting, propelling Oakton to a 52-41 victory over Langley. The Cougars (26-4) advance to next Saturday’s state final against Colonial Forge in Richmond.
Langley went up by three points after Royle’s fourth foul, but Oakton guard Mina Mori hit a runner at the buzzer to put her team up 19-18 at halftime, and Langley never regained the lead.
Against a stingy Langley team that entered Saturday’s contest giving up just 32.1 points per game in this postseason, the Cougars proved they could play equally stifling man-to-man defense. Oakton held its 6A North region rival to 31.1 percent shooting and limited Jordyn Callaghan to two points in the fourth quarter.
It was a measure of revenge against a Langley squad that eliminated Oakton in last month’s regional semifinal and last year’s state semifinal. The Saxons (25-5) cruised to a 64-36 romp in the regional matchup, limiting Connolly to four points in the process.
The heightened defensive intensity stemmed from three days of brutal practices earlier this week. Knowing his team could face Langley again, Oakton Coach Fred Priester ran his girls through 10-minute sessions of nonstop five-on-five drills that prioritized defensive pressure above all else.
“It wasn’t exactly met with universal approval,” Priester said. “But I didn’t ask for their approval.”
Oakton fell at the state semifinal stage each of the last two years. The Cougars weren’t about to make it three in a row against their local rivals.
“It was personal losing to them,” Royle said. “We just came back and said, ‘Tonight is our game.’ ”
COLONIAL FORGE 56, PATRIOT 37: The Pioneers’ dream season ended in a loss to the Eagles in the first semifinal at Robinson.
Eagles senior Shakira Austin — a 6-foot-5 Maryland commit — finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
“She was just too much for us to handle tonight,” Patriot guard Amanda Nhek said.
Olivia Gaither added 11 points and 15 boards for Colonial Forge (24-6), which outrebounded the smaller Pioneers by 19. Austin tallied 12 points in the first quarter, sparking a 19-0 run that buried Patriot early.
HIGHLAND SPRINGS 80, EDISON 78 (2OT): In the 5A state semifinals in Hampton, Edison’s nine-game winning streak was snapped with a double-overtime loss to Highland Springs. It was the same stage and opponent where the Eagles’ season ended last year.
Sophomore guard Carole Miller racked up 36 points and 18 rebounds in the losing effort.
Oakton’s Kailyn Fee (30) celebrates with her teammates after the victory over Langley. The Saxons had beaten Oakton in regional play.