A moment occurred during Oakton’s 71-61 state AAA championship game loss to Princess Anne (Virginia Beach) Friday night, March 13, when it seemed almost inevitable that the Cougars would find a way to win and complete their remarkable season unbeaten.
In the end, it wasn’t to be. But the never-say-die Cougars, in the title game played at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center in Richmond, gave the Cavaliers a fourth-quarter scare. Oakton, trailing by 11 points early in the second half, had fought back and, to the delight of its frenzied fan base, tied the game at 47-47 on a three-point shot by freshmen backup guard Katherine Coyer with seven minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the final quarter.
A few minutes later, Oakton nearly brought the house down when senior shooting guard Sasha Borojeni, with her team trailing 49-47, pumped in a three-pointer from the left wing to give the Cougars their first lead, 50-49, since early in the game when senior star Erin McGartland had opened the contest’s scoring with a trey of her own.
When Borojeni’s shot landed, the Cougars’ faithful erupted. Oakton, which over the course of the postseason had come back from large deficits to defeat both Mount Vernon (19-point deficit) and T.C. Williams (11-points down) in the Northern Region semifinals and finals, respectively, appeared to perhaps be on way to another come-from-behind win in the final and most important game of the season.
"Being down before [in prior games] made us believe we could come back," said McGartland, a team tri-captain along with Borojeni and Brianna Johnson. "But once we got the lead, I didn’t think we had them. We had to keep it going."
But the Cougars could not sustain the momentum following Borojeni’s big shot. Princess Anne, following that basket, scored the game’s next five points and never lost the lead thereafter. The Cougars did draw within 54-53 on sophomore Zora Stephenson’s trey from the right wing with 3:50 remaining. Later, after the Cavaliers had scored four consecutive points to increase their lead to 58-53, Oakton freshmen sensation Caroline Coyer pulled the Cougars within 58-55 with a pair of free throws with 2:46 left. But Oakton could get no closer as Princess Anne finished the game with a 13-6 streak to win.
During post-game ceremonies, the Oakton players gracefully accepted runner-up medals, and head coach Fred Priester was called out to take possession of the second place team trophy.
"Congratulations to the Oakton Cougars for a tremendous season, with a record of 30-1," the public address announcer told the crowd.
Naturally, the loss, the Cougars’ only one of the season, was a blow. But it was hardly devastating.
"Everybody doubted them except themselves and me," said Priester, of the region rumblings throughout the season that the Cougars were bound to fall back to earth as the wins kept piling up. "They didn’t disappoint anybody tonight. People said we’re too small and too slow. But we’re 30-1 and people should remember that."
<b>OAKTON LOST</b> the finals game, but it did so in style. The Cougars, through three-quarters, had already broken a state championship game record by converting 10, three-pointers. They would finish the game with 14 treys.
"Our hats off to Oakton," said Princess Anne coach Darnell Dozier. "They played very well. I’ve never seen a team shoot like that."
Oakton made 14-of-27 shots from three-point territory. Princess Anne (31-1) converted five-of-12 from long range.
Oakton’s McGartland (team-high 18 points), the team’s emotional leader, made five treys, four coming in the first half. Borojeni (14 points, 8 rebounds) nailed four treys, while Stephenson (11 points) had two. The other three-pointers came from Caroline Coyer (8 total points, all in the second half), Katherine Coyer (5 points) and senior backup guard Jenna Cahill, who closed the game with a trey.
Oakton utilized the three-point shot all season long, but the 14 treys made in the championship game were the most for the Cougars all winter.
"It’s definitely a big strategy for us – to knock down out three’s," said Borojeni. "It’s a big part of our game."
"You have to play 32 minutes of solid defense because all five of [Oakton’s starters] can really shoot," said Dozier. "We had hands in their faces and they still made their shots. Fred’s a great coach and had those kids ready to play."
While the Cougars were outstanding in their long range shooting, they could not convert their other shots, making just 3-of-32 tries from inside the three-point line. Princess Anne 6-foot-3 inch sophomore center Elizabeth Williams (17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) was an intimidating defensive presence inside the paint. When Oakton players went to the hoop or got the ball inside, Williams forced awkward shots.
Oakton’s outside shooting prowess nearly was enough to make up for the poor shooting from inside the stripe.
"I think they knew they were going to try to win the game on three’s. It got kind of frustrating," said Williams, of Oakton’s scorching outside touch. "But we kept our composure."
<b>WHILE WILLIAMS</b> was a key factor in her team’s win, Princess Anne junior guard Samisha Powell was her team’s best player. She finished the night with 34 points, including four, three-pointers, all in the first half. Her buzzer-beater, three-pointer off an inbound pass to close the first half gave Princess Anne a rush of momentum and a 38-29 halftime lead.
"I don’t really shoot threes, so when I kept making them I was kind of excited," said Powell.
Oakton, in the latter minutes of the third quarter, trailed 45-35 following a conventional three-point play by Williams with 2:41 left in the stanza. But the Cougars scored the final nine points of the quarter, highlighted on three-point shots by both McGartland and Caroline Coyer, to pull within 45-44 going into the fourth quarter.
Oakton continued to play well before faltering in the game’s final minutes.
"We were probably rushing a little bit," said Priester, of his team’s struggles in the final minutes. "We were excited and played with unbridled enthusiasm the whole game.
"Princess Anne is a very talented team and I thought we did real well," said Priester. "We had to come back a few times and the kids kept coming back. We knew we were going to shoot threes [throughout the night]. Our tallest kid is 5-8. It’s the way we wanted to play. Miss Powell played a great game [for them]."
McGartland said playing in a state finals game in front of the feverish Oakton crowd was a lifetime memory. The fans encouraged their heroes at game’s end.
"To see so many fans out there chanting, `We still love you,’ that meant a lot," said McGartland. "I’ll never forget [the season]. It was real fun."