Saturday night at Pulaski County seemed possible at the beginning of this season for Louisa County.
But three years ago? When Alexis Chapman, Lydia Wilson and Taylor Fifer were freshmen?
The scene in Dublin, with Louisa County beating Pulaski County 59-51 in Pulaski’s own gym to win the Class 4 state title would’ve seemed like a fantasy.
“This is so surreal,” Wilson said. “In ninth grade we would’ve never thought that we would’ve won the state championship. Everyone worked so hard for this.”
No matter how surreal it seemed for Wilson, it isn’t fantasy. Instead, it was a fitting end to a magical campaign that brought a VHSL girls basketball title to Louisa County for the first time ever and back to Central Virginia for the first time in 20 years when Charlottesville won a championship in 2001 back when girls basketball was still a fall sport. The moment left at least one Lion searching for words.
“I still can’t explain it, I’m trying to express how I feel but I don’t know what to say,” said Louisa’s Olivia McGhee. “I’m speechless. We’ve been talking about it the whole season and for it to finally come true, I don’t know how to explain it.”
It was a special moment for the Lions who knew once Sylvie Jackson joined Louisa that the expectations were going to be sky high. Delivering when expectations are that high with a state title and a 15-0 season can be extremely challenging, but clearly the Lions were up to the task.
“We knew we had everyone coming for us,” Jackson said. “We knew we were going to be good but we knew we had to level up and play intense every single game. This game we knew was going to be super hard, we had to step up.”
McGhee and Jackson certainly stepped up. The tandem put on their usual fireworks show as perhaps the state’s best one-two punch with McGhee notching 16 points and Jackson notching 20, with most of Jackson’s damage coming at the free throw line where she went 12-for-15. But Wilson’s offensive effort might have been the difference maker. She finished off two passes from McGhee and another from Chapman to score six critical points early in the fourth quarter and finished with 14 points on the night, a worthy final performance for a senior that has filled a variety of roles for the Lions.
“Lydia Wilson stepped up,” said Louisa coach Nick Shreck. “She knocked down some big shots for us — that’s been our story all season when teams try to take away Olivia and Sylvie, we trust the other three (seniors) to step up.”
The Lions won their way to a state title in a variety of different ways and Saturday they had to find yet another path to victory after going into a deep hole in the first quarter. Pulaski came out on fire on a 13-4 run and led 20-13 at the end of the first quarter. Louisa had to figure out some way to get out of that hole and get on track.
“The girls had to bounce back — they were very disciplined, very fundamental and they were eating us up,” Schreck said. “Once we saw the ball going through the net, that carried our defense. When our offense started clicking our defense really stepped up.”
The Lions found their legs in the second quarter and led 30-26 at the break, with McGhee scoring back-to-back buckets, one a jumper, the other a hard-nosed drive to the basket while Jackson scored eight points in the frame including a critical 3-pointer. Wilson also hit a big three during the second. That frame was a big improvement on both ends of the floor, but Pulaski didn’t roll over and kept hanging around throughout the second half.
“I liked the way they played the whole ball game,” said Pulaski coach Scott Ratcliff. “(McGhee and Jackson) they’re studs, both of them are. I was happy with it, the girls played hard. I can’t go in and fuss about anything.”
Abby Fleenor led the Cougars with 20 points and Pulaski trailed just 49-44 with 1:55 to play. But at that point the Cougars started to intentionally foul to try and claw their way back into the game and Jackson, Chapman and McGhee combined to go 10-for-15 at the line in the final frame, allowing Louisa to stretch out that narrow lead and keep Pulaski at arm’s length, surviving a physical matchup.
“You’ve just got to be aggressive, be strong,” McGhee said. “That’s what Coach Schreck kept telling us, you’ve got to be strong with the ball.”
So while the mix will be entirely different next year with the graduation of a senior class led by Chapman, Fifer and Wilson, the challenge for next year is already clear — and the expectations will be high again.
“To get to this moment is really special, we’re going to cherish it forever,” Schreck said. “And we’re going to try and run it back again next year.”