With 2:06 left before halftime, though having outplayed the homestanding, and favored, Patrick Henry Patriots, the Atlee Raiders girls basketball team found themselves only up 26-23, and on defense.
Five seconds later, another Patriot turnover was forced in the backcourt, the Raiders took possession, and spent the next two minutes beginning a run towards a signature victory.
By halftime, it was 31-25, then eight minutes later, it was 58-40. Atlee fans made the Ashland gym sound like a home game, the Patrick Henry faithful stunned. The Raiders, fueled by a stingy, relentless defense that frustrated the veteran Patriots, left with a 76-47 triumph, their 10th in 11 games.
The victory meant Atlee first-year head coach Michael Rawlings could check one item off the team’s 2013-14 bucket list.
“Tonight is our signature win,” Rawlings explained. “And it was one of the goals we set for ourselves at the start of the season. Let’s own Hanover [County] first before we set goals outside, because our program is still building. We’re still building.”
The building began slowly at 0-3, no signs of a county championship in sight. Then came wins over Varina and Hanover, then three big victories to win their bracket at the Boo Williams/Ronald Curry Christmas Classic in Hampton just before the New Year. The momentum hasn’t slowed.
It is fueled by defense, which in turn fires up Atlee’s offensive spark, senior Cierra Shelton. After hitting up Lee-Davis for 22 and Hanover for 23 in January wins, Shelton exploded for an amazing 36 points against Patrick Henry, including 13 of the Raiders’ 27 third-quarter points that put the game away.
“It comes down to defense. When we all get stops on defense, I just get hype,” Shelton said. “We score, and I’m just like, we’ve got to keep going.”
The Raiders never let up on the throttle, respecting the ability of Patrick Henry (11-3) to score quickly thanks to the duo of Summer Price and Amber Lee. But Price was saddled with foul trouble most of the night, fouling out with 4:45 to play and the game out of reach.
Atlee exploited the lower portion of the Patriots’ roster’s inability to recover from pressure defense that played 94 feet. It was Patrick Henry’s first loss since Dec. 23. The Patriots must better execute breaking the press and still need to find a consistent third scoring option. After Lee’s 17 and Price’s 16 points Monday night, Rachel Adams had seven, India Coles just five.
“We didn’t change our defense too much,” Shelton explained. “We did change down low because they wanted to get it into Lee.”
The Raiders’ fortunes changed 24 hours later as Glen Allen cooled off Atlee’s offense en route to a 61-39 victory Tuesday night, handing the Raiders their fifth loss of the year and first since a 58-52 home defeat to the Jaguars Jan. 9.
Atlee’s drive to the postseason continues at Varina Thursday and home against Armstrong Friday.