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MAX MEADOWS –– Mountain Empire District regular season champion Grayson County starts four sophomores, and for the longest time Friday night, it showed. The Blue Devils also start some talented kids with 40-plus games of varsity competition under their belts. That showed when it mattered most.
Grayson County shook off a sluggish, tentative start and finished with a flourish, validating its season title by zooming past Galax 52-41 for the MED girls’ tournament title at Fort Chiswell.
After starting the night 5-of-23 from the floor with 14 turnovers, the Blue Devils turned it around in the late stages of the third period and would connect on 10 of their final 17 field goal attempts while committing one turnover the final 10-plus minutes.
“It turned around when we were able to make that third pass without panicking and taking the first available shot,” said Grayson County coach Tiny Funk, named the district’s coach of the year after the game. “When it all settled down [Autumn Halsey] did a good job of getting the ball where it needed to go.”
Meredith Frost sparked the Blue Devils to life with seven points in the last 4:02 of the third period. A pair of driving layups by Frost tied the game at 22 at 2:49 of the period, and her 3-pointer from the left wing 90 seconds later put Grayson County in front for the first time, 26-25.
“When Meredith got going it gave us our third wheel that we needed, and that we look for in our offense,” Funk said. “Yerrick and I were talking the other night, and I told him we only do three things; you don’t need to scout us. We try to go to our strengths, and the girls did a good job.”
“I think a lot of it was that our defense just wasn’t there tonight,” said Galax coach Yerrick Stoneman. “Our man-to-man broke down so many times, but a lot of credit for that goes to the Frost girl. She took us off the dribble, Shupe took us off the dribble, and they took us off the dribble back to the middle, and that’s not what we want. We want to force back to the sideline and to the corner. That really helped Tiny and them. They were able to get to the basket and we weren’t.”
Camryn McGrady converted a three-point play off of an offensive rebound to close the third quarter with the Devils on top 29-27, then opened the fourth quarter with a 12-foot jumper from the wing. Grayson didn’t trail again.
The three-point play at the end of the third kicked off a 14-2 run by the Blue Devils that stretched all the way to the 2:28 mark of the fourth and Frost capped the run with two free throws for a 42-30 lead.
Grayson County wasn’t about to give up the lead at the free throw line, either, hitting 15-of-21 from the stripe in the second half.
Galax, meanwhile, just couldn’t find the range in the second half, going just 5-of-24 from the floor after halftime.
“We had a little bit of a lead and if we could have kept it, I think Tiny would have come out in man [defense],” said Stoneman. “I think of he had done that we would have been in good shape. But he laid back in that 1-2-2 and it just worked.”
After two close losses to Grayson in the regular season, Galax certainly couldn’t have hoped for a better start. The Maroon Tide scored the game’s first eight points, didn’t allow a field goal for about six minutes and would build a 10-point lead by the midpoint of the second period.
Susan Davis and Paige Hanks both hit 3-pointers in the first five minutes, Hanks opened the second quarter with a trey followed by Carolyn Vaughan’s jumper from just inside the arc.
Two Davis foul shots at 4:20 of the second had the Tide in front 16-6.
Grayson County had hit just one of its first 18 attempts from the floor, but kept from being completely blow out early on by 6-of-6 free throw shooting by Madison Shupe, who scored 10 of the Devils’ first 12 points.
The Blue Devils’ Taylor Cannaday hit a running one-hander off the glass to close the half with Galax leading 18-14.
“We had some excitement, some nerves, we have one kid that went through an 0-22 season,” Funk said. “The ‘want-to’ kind of overwhelmed their ability to make the plays. But once they settled down they did a good job. The one thing we did all night, we did a good job defensively.”
Both teams will advance to Region C play this week, Grayson County in Division 2 and Galax in Division 1. The two teams’ seeding and opening-round opponents weren’t determined until the weekend after all of the region’s district tournaments were completed.
Friday marked the first time a school from the county, Independence, Fries or now Grayson County, coupled a season title with a tournament championship.
“That’s a credit to the girls,” Funk said. “They put forth the effort and listen to me grunt and growl. I’m really proud of them. I just try not to mess them up, get them on the bus and get them to where we’re going.”
McGrady, Frost and Shupe combined evenly for 43 of the Blue Devils’ 52 points, led by McGrady with 15. Shupe and Frost tossed in 14 apiece.
Hanks paced Galax with 11 points.
Galax........................8 10 9 14––41
Grayson County......6 8 15 23––52
Davis 2 3-4 9, Ayers 0 1-2 1, Hanks 3 2-4 11, Vaughan 2 5-5 9, Lindsey 4 3-5 11. Totals 11 14-20 41.
Grayson County (19-5)
Frost 4 5-6 14, Eller 1 0-0 2, Halsey 0 0-2 0, McGrady 6 3-3 15, Hart 1 0-0 2, Cassell 0 2-2 2, Cannaday 1 1-2 3, Shupe 2 10-10 14.
Three-point field goals – Galax 5-18 (Hanks 3, Davis 2), Grayson County 1-9 (Frost). Rebounds – Galax 35 (Lindsey 10), Grayson County 37 (McGrady, Shupe 9). Turnovers – Galax 17, Grayson County 15. Team fouls – Galax 20, Grayson County 14. Fouled out – Ayers, Lindsey. Technical fouls – none.