By ROB WITHAM
H-P Sports Correspondent
After a poor shooting performance in the first half in front of a homecoming crowd filled with former players, the young Yellow Jackets of Randolph-Macon women’s basketball could have easily folded the tent and decided to live to play another day, but, realizing they only trailed one of the top teams in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, the Guilford Quakers, by seven points, they opted for the better route.
“Sometimes that has happened,” said Yellow Jackets head coach Carroll LaHaye of her team. “But I was really proud of the effort that we gave, especially in the second half.”
That effort eventually erased the deficit, which was as high as 11 early in the fourth quarter, as the Yellow Jackets took the lead twice in the final three minutes. But the Quakers ended the game on a 9-3 run and survived their trip north, escaping with a 59-55 win on “Back To The Hive” Day at Crenshaw Gymnasium.
Guilford (10-2 ODAC, 17-3) took advantage of the Yellow Jackets’ zone defense to take the early lead, LaHaye and her team realizing they needed to pick up pace and intensity.
“We kind of eased our way into it (the zone), but we’re playing against an experienced team who, while we were easing our way into it, they were taking advantage of that,” LaHaye said, noting the extra passes and cuts Guilford used to find easy baskets in the first period. “A couple of baskets in the first half end up coming back to haunt you in the second half.”
Guilford established their presence in the paint via their offensive rhythm, scoring 14 of their 15 first period points inside, and, for the game, out scoring the Yellow Jackets down low 48-28, despite freshman Kelly Williams’ 17th double-double of the season with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
But on this day, perhaps fueled by the presence of past Yellow Jacket heroes in Crenshaw, Randolph-Macon would not quit. Williams herself scored 12 points in a 14-2 run in just under six minutes to give the Yellow Jackets their first lead of the game at 49-48 with 3:13 remaining. After Jordyn Brown scored to retake the lead for Guilford, Marisha Berry drained a three-pointer with 2:38 left for a 52-50 advantage.
But over the next critical 90 seconds, as Guilford scored seven points, the Yellow Jackets committed a costly turnover and missed a point blank shot underneath, and when Kelsey Wisner hit a three-pointer with 47 seconds left, Randolph-Macon still trailed 57-55. The Yellow Jackets got the ball back and had two chances to tie or take the lead. After a pass was knocked out of bounds by Guilford with 7.5 seconds left, Berry’s inbounds pass to the basket intended for Williams was left just a bit short, stolen by Guilford.
Randolph-Macon (5-7 ODAC, 10-10) had to commit four fouls just to get Guilford to the free throw line, and, by the time they did, less than two seconds remained. Amy Steller made two free throws and sealed the 59-55 win.
Obviously disappointed with the results, LaHaye, the shrewd veteran of 35 seasons, found solace, and motivation, in a sign hanging in her office that she paid homage to following the game.
“Maybe it’s like my sign says, there are some defeats more triumphant than victories,” LaHaye explained. “We keep talking to them about being there, that we’re there, and I told them it’s time for us to turn the corner, it’s time for us to tip over and get there. We’ve only got a few games left, and, hopefully, it will pay off for us.”
Wisner added 12 points and two steals for the Yellow Jackets while Amber Lee (Patrick Henry) scored nine points, had three blocks, two assists and two steals. Randolph-Macon shot 14-of-16 at the free throw line, but just 37 percent from the field.
The Yellow Jackets have their work cut out for them trying to at least clinch an ODAC Tournament First Round game at home on Feb. 20. To do so, they must finish between fifth and eighth in conference standings. They entered this week tied for eighth place, preparing to host conference leader Lynchburg Saturday at 2 p.m. at Crenshaw Gymnasium.