Monday, January 2, 2012

Southwind hangs on to stop Tigers in Dragon Fire Invitational

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Southwind's Bianca Cage lit up the Dragon Fire Invitational for 91 points in four games. None of them was bigger than the six free throws she made in the final minute to give the Jaguars a 58-48 victory over Manassas, and the young school's first girls basketball championship.

"Still can't believe it. I've waited so long for this," said the subdued senior guard as she stared at the trophy. Along with it came MVP honors for an 18-point performance, even though she sat out the third quarter with three fouls.

Actually, she was one part subdued, two parts winded. Because both teams knew full well they had just taken a good, hard 32-minute look into a mirror. Each team surrendered more than 20 turnovers to unrelenting defensive pressure. Add a bushel of missed inside shots near both baskets. And until Cage's last minute display, free throw numbers that would bring any coach to tears.

"That's a great team. Big, quick as we are. We had to fight through that all night," said first-year coach Stan Gatlin, whose team is 15-1. "We've got a long way to go, but tonight our kids did what they had to do in a tough situation."

He was doubly happy for Cage, who was averaging 22 points a game. "For her to wait as long as she has for this moment is so great ... and that she's bought in so quickly to what we're trying to do has been huge."

Manassas (13-3) nearly turned the tide midway through the fourth quarter, sticking 6-foot forward Tiffany Jones, who led her team with 15 points, on the front line of the press with guards Phikala Anthony and 6-0 Denise Johnson. They drove Cage and sophomore Amber Holmes to distraction, and back-to-back steals on inbounds plays led to baskets by Jones to tie the score at 41 with 5:30 to play.

But after a wild change of possessions, steady senior center Jasmine McAllister turned a nice baseline move into the last of her 18 points to put the Jags on top to stay. Holmes hit a free throw, Chelsea Baines got the rebound and passed to Holmes, and that led to a three-point play and a 47-41 edge.

"The style we play is hard on our legs, and four nights in a row finally took its toll," Manassas coach Tommy Warren said. "But that's a tough, tough team, too."

The next three minutes were a nervous soap opera at the foul line, where the Tigers were 5-of-20 and Southwind 14-of-29. Then Cage, who missed two early free throws, stayed calm and perfect.

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