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Wakefield girls silenced in VISAA D-3 state title game, 32-27

Saturday, Mar. 1 | By Peter Brewington
Paul Sipes's Wakefield Owls lost in the VISAA Division III championship game for the second consecutive season. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
In baseball, hitters desperately don’t want their batting averages to fall below the dreaded Mendoza Line, which is generally considered to be .200.

It’s a paltry batting average, and certainly not a very good shooting percentage in basketball either, but the Wakefield Owls might have settled for it Saturday afternoon against Virginia Episcopal School in the VISAA Division 3 girls basketball state championship game.

Stifled all game by VES’s shifting 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defenses, the top-seeded Owls (22-5) fell to the No. 3-seeded Bishops, 32-27, at St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville.

The final score is no misprint. The favored Owls literally could not score, and endured excruciatingly long gaps between baskets.

Wakefield's Airielle Jenkins scored the first basket of the game 10 seconds in - a promising sign - but Wakefield did not score for five minutes.

It continued like that most of the game. A basket or free throw followed by four, five or six straight empty possessions. Jenkins would get to the basket, but not finish. Julianna Parra, Autumn Sanders or Lexi Smith would try to pick up the slack, but couldn't do it. Bruising Owl Naomi Mutombo got in foul trouble, which did not help.

In the end, the Bishops' quickly reacting zone was a primary culprit.

“All year long we see man-to-man. Zones are way harder,” said Wakefield senior Lexi Smith. “We go out as a team. It was a bloody sweet season,” Smith said.

“When they get comfortable, I like to switch it out, and give them different looks,” said first year VES coach Darko Sedlar. “To keep them under 30 is amazing.”

Wakefield coach Paul Sipes cited “missed layups and free throws” as the reason for defeat. “I thought we played too safe. We came back and that was when we started going inside and drawing fouls.”

Wakefield made just 3-of-9 free throws in the fourth quarter, short-circuiting a bold comeback.

While the Owls’ second straight loss in the D-3 final was a lot more competitive then last year’s 67-36 loss to Amelia Academy -- in many ways it was more painful.

Last year the Owls were decisive underdogs against a gigantic Amelia team that towered over the Owls, with players 6-foot-4 and 6-2. But the Bishops were guard-oriented like the Owls, a factor that somewhat negated what Sipes said he wanted to do.

“VES had three good quick exceptional ballhandlers, so we had to hold off a little,” said Sipes, whose team likes to harass rival ballhandlers.

Plus, VES had Tyra Cox, an aggressive freshman scoring guard who was the game’s best player and led her team with 19 points.
Cox started strong with all 10 of her team’s points in the first quarter as the Bishops led 10-8 after one period and 15-13 at halftime.

After Wakefield tied it to open the second half, Cox scored seven of her team’s eight third quarter points as VES led 23-16 going into the fourth quarter.

Despite their dreadful shooting, Wakefield still nearly stole a win.

When the deficit reached 13 at 29-16 with six minutes left, Wakefield embarked on desperate surge that ultimately saw them have several chances to tie.

Down 29-27 with 35 seconds left, Naomi Mutombo missed a short challenged shot to tie it.

Then, down 30-27 with 25 seconds left, Smith eschewed a 3-pointer to drive the baseline but missed a tough layup with 20 seconds to go. “We were down three and we’re not good 3-point shooters so I went for the reverse. I didn’t finish or get the foul,” said Smith.

Cox had her team’s last two points of the game on two free throws with four seconds left, closing the scoring at 32-27.

“They played strong. They did not give up. I respect that. I’d love to play them again,” said Cox, showing respect for Wakefield.

Jenkins led Wakefield with 10. Mutombo scored eight, Sanders five and Julianna Parra and Smith each scored two.

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