Oakton forward Delaney Connolly throughout the season has shown a willingness to step behind the arc and shoot.
Initially, head coach Fred Priester desired a more conservative approach from the 6-foot sophomore. As the season progressed, Connolly received Priester’s blessing to fire away from 3-point range.
On Saturday night, Connolly didn’t hesitate to launch from long distance, and the results helped the decorated Oakton girls’ basketball program bring home another trophy.
Connolly knocked down four 3-pointers, scored a game-high 20 points and helped Oakton beat Madison 50-42 in the 6A North region championship game at Robinson Secondary School. It was the Cougars’ first region title since 2012, when Oakton went undefeated and won the AAA state championship.
Connolly helped in the paint Saturday night, grabbing nine rebounds while contributing to a group defensive effort against 6-foot-2 Madison forward Kelly Koshuta. But it was Connolly's perimeter performance that had the greatest impact.
“All year long, we’ve been working with her, working with her, working with her,” Priester said. “First game of the season, she jacked up a couple, I said let’s just chill a little bit.”
It’s safe to say Priester has changed his stance.
“She has,” the head coach said, “my absolute green light to shoot that ball.”
Connolly made her first 3-pointer of the night with 3:44 left in the opening quarter. She made a pair of treys in the third quarter, the second of which gave Oakton a 30-25 lead.
Connolly’s most important 3-pointer came with 4:23 left in the fourth quarter. Oakton led by two when No. 44 knocked one down from the top of the arc, giving the Cougars a 43-38 advantage. Oakton led by at least five points for the remainder of the contest.
“Priester told me to shoot, but it was also my teammates really helping me to get open,” Connolly said. “We all instill confidence in each other.”
While Connolly came up clutch, Oakton’s defensive effort was equally important.
The Cougars limited Virginia Tech signee Koshuta to 10 points four days after she scored 33 in a semifinal victory over Chantilly. Oakton used a zone defense and double-teamed Koshuta to limit her touches and make life difficult for her when she did get the ball.
Instead of working the ball inside to Koshuta, the Warhawks often settled for perimeter shots. Madison did knock down seven 3-pointers and kept the game close, but the Warhawks were outscored 13-6 in the fourth quarter.
“Everyone double-teams me,” said Koshuta, the 6A North region Player of the Year. “When you do that, you find the open player. … For a while, we were hitting the shots, and then some of them just weren’t falling toward the end.”
The Oakton defense wasn’t the only thing hindering Koshuta, who got into early foul trouble. She went to the bench with about 3 minutes remaining in the first quarter after picking up her second foul. After briefly entering the game in the closing seconds of the opening period, Koshuta returned to the bench and stayed there for the entire second quarter.
After scoring just one point in the first half, Koshuta scored eight in the third quarter and Madison trailed 37-36 entering the final period.
“We were just trying to get as many people around her [as we could with our] zone,” Oakton senior guard Karlie Cronin said, “and just keep her away from the basket and from getting the ball because when she has it, she’s hard to stop.”
The Cougars held Koshuta without a field goal in the fourth quarter and pulled out the win.
“She’s such an incredible player,” Priester said. “Slowing her down just means keeping her under 30 [points]. … I know she got in a little foul trouble early. I know she didn’t seem to be her usual self moving around.”
Oakton guard Lindsey Abed finished with 11 points and Alex Marquis scored 10. Sophomore center Maddie Royle had six points and five blocks.
Alexis Hermes led Madison with 13 points. Aidan McWeeney knocked down a trio of 3-pointers for nine points, and Morgan Simpson added seven.
Each team clinched a berth in the state tournament by reaching the region final. The semifinals are Friday in Richmond.
“In its own way, because of the way the format is, [the region championship game is] sort of a game that’s hard to get ready for --- you know you’re going to advance anyway,” Priester said. “… The thing about something like this is no one can take this away from you. That banner goes up in your gym. … [Coaches and players will] never forget that.”