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Warhawks Fly to Liberty Title

In third-consecutive Liberty District final, the Madison girls cut down the net.

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Tournament MVP Marygrace Jay celebrates the Warhawks' Liberty title.

The Madison High girls’ basketball team was at its best when it counted the most during its 46-32 Liberty District title game win over Langley last Saturday night. The postseason tournament finals contest took place at South Lakes High School in Reston.

It marked the first time the Warhawks have taken the tournament title since the 2003-04 season. The past two years have seen Madison reach the championship game, only to lose to Marshall on both occasions. On Saturday, the Warhawks finally got over the finals game hurdle.

“This time it was our turn to cut down the net,” said Madison senior forward Marygrace Jay, who earned tourney MVP honors. “Being a senior, I could not have asked for anything more.”

Both Madison and Langley were scheduled to take part in this week’s 16-team Northern Region tournament.

In Friday’s title game, Madison, despite taking an 11-0 lead to start the contest, could not shake the Saxons and found itself in a 31-31 tie early in the fourth quarter. But from that point on, the Warhawks took control of the game, outscoring Langley 15-1 the rest of the way to turn a close game into a mild blowout.

“Their first three possessions [of the fourth quarter] they got lay-up, lay-up, lay-up,” said Langley coach Cheryl Buffo, of Madison’s ability in the final quarter to get high percentage baskets off of lay-ups or by working the ball inside.

After Langley’s Kristen Kody scored on a reverse lay-up bucket to tie the game at 31 with 7 minutes, 26 seconds left to play, Madison put the game away with a 12-0 scoring run. Madison junior forward Danielle Landry started the game-turning stretch with a 10-foot jumper off the right wing while being fouled. She missed the ensuing free throw, but Jay grabbed the offensive rebound and nailed a straight-on, eight footer to give the Warhawks a 35-31 lead with 7:06 remaining.

Over the next couple of minutes, Jay made a free throw and a short jump shot to increase the Madison lead to 38-31 with just over five minutes remaining.

And a short time later, Madison got lay-up baskets from both Katie Wimmer and Jay. Wimmer, a senior, was credited with an assist on Jay’s basket, which turned into a three-point play as a result of the 6-foot-3 inch standout being fouled on the play.

Following Jay’s free throw conversion, the game was all but over as Madison led 43-31 with 2: 10 left to play.

“We definitely picked up our defense,” said Jay, of the Warhawks’ play in the fourth quarter. “It had been lagging.”

Langley scored just three points in the fourth quarter. After Kody’s basket that tied the game at 31, the Saxons did not score another field goal over the final seven minutes and 26 seconds.

“We played our game and let everyone touch the ball with four or five passes,” said Wimmer, of Madison’s fourth quarter play on the offensive end.

Early on, Langley struggled to convert baskets, as a result of championship game jitters and aggressive Madison defense. Meanwhile, the Warhawks saw four different players score during the eight-minute stanza, led by Leah Stiegler’s four points.

“We were very nervous, obviously, not scoring any points in the first quarter,” said Buffo. “We got good looks and good shots. Thankfully, we played good defense [to stay in the game].”

The coach encouraged her team following the tough start.

“I told them to hang in there,” she said. “As soon as they hit their first shot, the lid came off the basket. I said, `Here we go.’ These kids hung in there and never quit.”

That first Langley basket came with 6:59 left in the second quarter on a close-range score from freshman center Audrey Dotson. That bucket started an 8-0 Langley spurt that got the Saxons within 11-8. By halftime, Langley was within 17-15.

In the third quarter, Madison looked as if it might be pulling away when Jay drained a 10-foot baseline shot from the right corner to make the score 25-19 Madison with 5:12 left. But the Saxons kept getting big baskets to stay within striking range. Later in the quarter, Colleen Shea’s fastbreak lay-up, off a beautiful assist pass from Dotson, got Langley within 27-26 at the 2:24 mark.

The Saxons closed the outstanding quarter on a long range, game-tying three-pointer basket by Kody with two seconds showing to tie the game at 29. Kody, a sophomore guard, pumped her fist into the air as she ran back down the court with the buzzer sounding to conclude the quarter.

But in the fourth, Langley’s offense was stalled by Madison’s tenacious defense. The result was Madison taking control of the game and winning the title.

“I think in the fourth quarter they really stepped up,” said Madison coach Denise Weinig, of her senior leaders in particular. “Certainly our defense was the reason we won.”

Wimmer said Madison was determined to finally get over the hump and get a district crown.

“I think we just wanted to show everyone we were the best team in the district,” said Wimmer.

Madison’s Jay, the tourney MVP, was one of three Madison players to make the six-member All-Tournament Team. The other Warhawks named to the team were Wimmer and Stiegler, a senior guard. For Langley, both Rachel Warrick, a junior forward, and Dotson, a 6-1 pivot player, made it.

In the title game win, top-seed Madison was led by Jay, who scored 16 points and had nine rebounds. Also for the Warhawks (24-1 record), Landry scored 10 points, Wimmer had nine and Stiegler eight. Madison reached the finals with wins over Marshall and McLean.

Dotson led No. 3-seed Langley (14-10) with 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots. Kody added seven points for the Saxons, who made it to the championship game by beating Jefferson and No. 2-seed Woodson.