WISE — Gate City High School girls’ basketball coach Kelly Houseright said she didn’t give much of a speech during halftime of Saturday’s game against East Rockingham.
Whatever she did, it certainly worked.
In their second trip to the state final four since 2012, the Blue Devils outscored the Eagles 42-17 in the second half after trailing 36-32 at the half, running away with a 78-49 win on Saturday in a 2A state semifinal game at the Prior Center at the University of Virginia at Wise .
“We just talked about getting refocused,” Houseright said. “We weren’t really playing like we wanted to win…more like we expected to win.”
The Eagles’ loss ends a streak of two-straight state titles for the fourth-year school. Gate City advances to the 2A state title game, where they will face Central-Wise next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond.
After allowing the Eagles to shoot 52 percent in the first half, Gate City (24-2) turned up the pressure over the final two quarters, holding East Rockingham to 17 percent shooting and 1-of-9 on 3-pointers.
“In the second half, we just turned the ball over way too much,” ERHS coach Paul Comer said.
Less than a minute into the third quarter, Gate City’s Megan Edwards sank a 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils a 37-36 lead, its first since the 5:24 mark of the first quarter.
East Rock turned the ball over 16 times in the third quarter which led to 13 Gate City points.
“In the third quarter we just kind of gave up and once they started getting ahead of us, we never tried to fight back,” ERHS junior guard Madison Comer said.
Comer finished with 20 points and 10 assists, the only East Rockingham player in double-figures in either category. But the 1,000-point scorer committed 12 turnovers, many while trying to break Gate City’s suffocating full-court pressure.
“I think it was more effort and more focus,” Houseright said. “We finally started having people diving on the floor after balls and we were getting rebounds. You can probably go back and watch it on film – the first and second half is probably going to be night-and-day difference.”
The Blue Devils’ two leading scorers — fraternal twins Morgan and Jordan Gose — were both sophomores the last time the team made it to Richmond.
Saturday, they did what they do best. Morgan, who averages 13.7 points per game, netted 24 points, including 10 in the breakaway third quarter. Jordan had 10 points to go along with eight rebounds.
“We tried to keep our composure as a team and keep our heads,” Morgan Gose said of the second half.
As the Gate City lead ballooned to as large as 33 points in the second half, the game got chippy. Morgan Gose was whistled for a technical foul after she pushed Madison Comer to the floor, a result of East Rockingham’s frustration, Houseright said.
“Our kids aren’t going down easy and we’re not going to lay-down for anybody,” Paul Comer said. “We’re not going to get pushed around and take it. That’s just not the kind of kids we are. We didn’t win two state titles getting pushed around.”
Madison Comer, who is averaging about 17 points a game for the Eagles (20-8), was part of two experienced state title teams. This year, East Rock didn’t have the luxury of veterans like Meghan Nicholson, Jessica Lam, Chase Raynes and Sarah Cameron.
This year’s youth – the Eagles started two freshmen Saturday and have just two seniors on the roster – was difficult to overcome.
“Normally we get down a little bit and try and fight and come back and we never give up,” Madison Comer said. “I think here we kind of gave up a little bit and let them keep scoring on us.”’
Paul Comer, who coached both of the state title teams, said he wasn’t surprised Gate City increased the pressure in the second half. His staff talked about it, but playing against it was totally different, he said.
“We came out and played a great first half, but we know it’s a 32-minute game,” Paul Comer said. “Obviously they came out and scored 31 points in the third quarter and put us back on our heels a little bit, and we just didn’t react very well with the ball in our hands.”