By Drew Goodman / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
When the 2016-2017 Charlottesville girls’ basketball team exited the floor of the Salem Civic Center following a state quarterfinals loss to Monacan, a one-hour bus ride and a locker to clean out back home were all that was left to do for most of the Black Knights’ roster.
With all five starters and several reserves moving on, then-junior Kejesha Taylor was determined to get back to states the following season but knew that she would have to do it alongside a whole new cast of characters.
Almost a year after clinching the program’s first state tournament appearance under head coach Jim Daly, Taylor and the resurgent Knights are now one step closer to a return to the state tournament.
Third-seeded Charlottesville, behind a balanced offensive effort and a relentless pursuit of the ball on defense, blasted visiting George Washington-Danville 55-27 in Friday night’s Class 4, Region D quarterfinal showdown.
The Black Knights (20-5) will travel to No. 2 seed William Byrd on Tuesday night with a bid to states on the line.
“Since we lost five seniors, we used that as a motivation… we knew we had potential,” Taylor said. “We got one more game to make it to states and we played our hardest to get to this game.”
Taylor buried a three-pointer to open the contest and it was all CHS from there until the final whistle. Nine different Black Knights touched the scoreboard, led by TC Younger with 16 points and Jessica Antwi with 11. Carmella Jackson came off of the bench and played through pain to tally eight big points, and Kaniyah Key was a force down low with seven points and a bevy of rebounds.
Charlottesville had the height advantage but used its deep and explosive backcourt to make the Eagles uncomfortable from the moment that they crossed the half court line. GW managed only a single point in the second quarter and converted just one shot from the field in the entire first half.
George Washington had to wait until the 5:23 mark of the second quarter to register its second made field goal of the contest, and slowly limped its way to double digits for the first time soon after.
The trio of Younger, Antwi, and Jackson created havoc on nearly every defensive possession, which led to a number of transition buckets and three-point play opportunities.
“Our defensive effort in the first half was really fantastic,” Daly said. “[GW] is a team with really aggressive guards, and we really keyed in on the penetration… as a team, we guarded them really well. We used our depth: We threw a different guard at them every two minutes… It was just a good team win and I’m really proud of us.”
Charlottesville grabbed a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter, and the visitors never made it a game after that. The Knights hit an offensive lull midway through the second frame, but their relentless on-ball defense prevented GW from drawing any closer during the drought.
A trio of transition layups by Younger highlighted an 8-0 Charlottesville run to end the opening half, and the Knights would lead by as many as 33 points in the third quarter.
The lopsided score subdued the Charlottesville crowd for the bulk of the contest, but the gym erupted, including the home bench, when reserves Amaya Hallman and Cierra Smith touched the scoreboard on a jumper and a made free throw respectively.
Charlottesville had racked up 48 points after the first 23 minutes of play, which was a far cry from not even breaking 40 in Tuesday’s Jefferson District Championship Game defeat against Western Albemarle on Tuesday night.
Despite Friday being the biggest game of most of his team’s career, Daly felt as though his team was able to shake off the loss and be loose heading into the regional tournament.
“I didn’t really feel any nerves: they were so loose before the game,” Daly said. “I thought we had the best two practices that we’ve had in the last couple of weeks the last two days. In some ways, I think that game against Western was a wakeup call that we have to do this together. There really isn’t another way to do this.”
The Black Knights will travel down 1-81 to face a veteran William Byrd team that bested No. 7 Jefferson Forest 51-31 in Friday’s quarterfinal round.