No Sarah Parsons, no Lauren Vugteveen, a loss on the roster, and then, a complete offensive collapse.
How could Randolph-Macon women’s basketball survive all this and claim victory Tuesday night in a fight for third place in the ODAC against Virginia Wesleyan?
Enter Marisha Berry. The “Powhatan Pistol” played much taller than her 5-foot 6-inch frame, becoming a defensive thorn in the Marlins’ side, and helping the Jackets to find a route to victory, 66-61, despite an abysmal shooting performance.
Berry’s nine steals played a pivotal role in Randolph-Macon’s late second-half comeback. Six of them came after she committed her fourth personal foul with 11:29 to play. Six minutes later, the Jackets had scored only eight points in 14 1/2 minutes of the half, and were behind 57-50.
Up to this point, the Jackets made three of their first 21 second-half shots from the floor. Nothing, and no one, was working.
Then, a Taylor Huber midcourt steal and layup came, feeling like a heavy rain in a dust bowl. Eighty seconds later, Stephanie Staples drew a foul, hit two free throws, and it was 57-54.
After a Marlins free throw, Katie Anderson’s basket at 3:39 left, followed by two Huber free throws tied the game at 58 with 3:12 to play. Over the next two minutes, another Huber free throw, plus two from Hannah Livermon, upped the lead to 61-59.
Berry’s seventh steal gave Anderson another trip to the charity stripe, earning two points for a 63-59 edge with 38 seconds left. Two seconds later, Berry’s eighth steal drew another Virginia Wesleyan foul, and the freshman grew in stature as she calmly sank two free throws. Somehow, in under five minutes, the Jackets willed their way to 15 points and found their margin of victory.
Berry’s work was made all the more important due to the absence of junior starter Sarah Parsons, out with a concussion. Lauren Vugteveen’s absence for a second game due to a back injury suffered in practice meant more time, and more responsibility, for veterans like Paige Mills and freshmen like Staples, Taylor Intermill, and, on this night, Berry.
“I was nervous, but I thought, ‘I gotta do what I’ve gotta do. I’ve had practice, so let’s do it,’” Berry noted courtside after the game. “When we were down five with five minutes left, I looked at the ladies and said we’ve got to play defense, and we did.”
The game’s pace was in the Marlins’ favor, a team that loves to play games in the 60s, not interested in the Jackets’ run and gun style. Once Randolph-Macon’s offense disappeared after intermission, it was their defense that kept Virginia Wesleyan in striking distance, otherwise there would be no hope for a final comeback.
“It was our defense that helped us win this game,” said a relieved Carroll LaHaye, Randolph-Macon head coach. “That’s quite a statement from me because I’ve been vocal about how we don’t play defense. But our defense began to step up in the Lynchburg win (91-73 on Saturday at “Back To The Hive”) and I’m proud of these kids tonight.”
In the long run, LaHaye and her players may look back at this game that more mirrored a middleweight boxing fight with a degree of affinity. If ever there was an opportunity to realize the Yellow Jackets can win defensively when their offense fails them, it was Tuesday night.
Berry, for one, is ready to buy into anything so long as it means victory.
“We’re buying into defense and offense,” Berry said emphatically. “[LaHaye] came in and told us how horribly we shot and said to us we had to rely on our defense. And we did.”
“Our team knew that we were the team that had to get stops because we were the team behind tonight,” LaHaye said. “In past years, in past games, we’d fold, thinking we couldn’t come back. But I’m proud of this team tonight for pulling within themselves. And Marisha’s nine steals? She did well for a little freshman.”
A little freshman who stood head and shoulders above the rest when it mattered most.
The Jackets next travel to Hollins University Saturday afternoon. Hollins is in last place in the ODAC at 1-10.Senior forward Lindsey Sharman has also been a notable absence on the court the past two games. LaHaye confirmed to the Herald-Progress Tuesday night that due to personal reasons, Sharman is no longer playing with Randolph-Macon.