Girls varsity basketball falls to Centreville in regional playoffs

Highlanders stumble in final minutes of playoff game

Senior Shushan Krikorian presses against Centreville defense to find an opening for a shot.

On Tuesday Feb. 21, the McLean girls varsity basketball team faced off against the Centreville Wildcats at home for the first round of regional playoffs. Riding off a win in the Liberty District Championship against rival school Langley, the team came in with confidence and fire.

“[Centreville] is probably the most talented team left [in the playoffs],” head coach Jenny Sobota said. “But we’re coming off of a 12 game winning streak. If we play our best, we’ll win the game.”

The Highlanders came out in full force, establishing a fast-paced offense that allowed sophomore Alyssa Evans to find a window and sink a three-pointer within the first 60 seconds of the game. Meanwhile, the Wildcats struggled to gain any traction, missing multiple open shots during the first few minutes of the game.

After a few more points racked up from a layup by senior Shushsan Krikorian and three-pointers from sophomore Tatum Olson and senior Kara Bremser, Centreville called a timeout at the 4:58 mark, with McLean ahead 11-4.

Centreville came out of the timeout with more fire, with one of the Wildcats quickly sinking a three-pointer as well as stealing the ball from McLean’s offense for a quick breakaway and layup. However, McLean was hardly phased, with Bremser sinking two more three-pointers back to back as well as drawing a foul and converting the two free throws. To end the quarter, Olson landed a crisp three-pointer from the corner, giving the Highlanders a lead of 24-16.

The second quarter saw Centreville begin to close the gap left by the Highlanders in the first quarter, with the Wildcat offense speeding up and finding more openings in McLean’s defense. However, they were having difficulty finding the basket on most of their shots.

The Wildcats also began to tighten their defense more in the second quarter, putting more pressure on the Highlanders’ offense. Struggling to find openings in Centreville’s defense, McLean ran out of time on the shot clock and called a timeout at the 2:32 mark, with a shrinking lead of 32-26.

Luck continued to be on the Highlanders’ side as the Wildcats missed shot after shot, though the Highlanders began to lose possession of the ball quicker and had more difficulty adjusting on defense. To end the half, a Centreville player made a buzzer-beater to close up the score to 33-29.

The third quarter marked the end of McLean’s lead and the beginning of a tight and intense back-and-forth between the teams. With two quick three-pointers scored by the Wildcats, the game seemed to be turning out of the Highlanders’ favor. After two lost possessions, a missed shot and rebound, and a delayed defense, a McLean timeout was called at the 5:47 mark, now behind 33-37.

The timeout was clearly needed, as soon after McLean was able to sink two quick layups and a three-pointer as well as draw a foul, with sophomore Vilte Kacerauskaite making her free throw to tie the game at 39-39.

Both teams continued to find holes in each other’s defenses, but Centreville was able to find more success, ending the quarter ahead of the Highlanders 48-46.

The fourth quarter was easily the most exciting, with energy buzzing through the gym as the teams were neck-and-neck with each other. McLean’s offense was quickly moving the ball around, with players like Olson and Evans attacking any open windows to land shots and fire up the students and parents supporting McLean. At the 5:25 mark, Centreville called a timeout with a tied score at 50-50. The tension in the gym was almost suffocating.

At the end of the timeout, it was clear both teams’ nerves were running high. Krikorian was able to glide through Centreville’s defense and make a layup, however the score was quickly tied again when Centreville’s offense found an opening to make a two-point shot. At the 2:30 mark, the game was once again tied, this time at 52-52.

Evans was able to draw a foul, but she missed her free throw and Centreville quickly took possession of the ball, sinking a quick two-pointer to take on a slight lead. McLean then called for a timeout, down 52-54 with 1:05 left in the game.

Unlike the timeout taken by McLean in the previous quarter, this one seemed ineffective at calming the nerves of the players. After a series of fouls from the Highlanders that the Wildcats were unable to capitalize on, a Centreville timeout was called with 48.9 seconds left in the game.

The pressure was on for the McLean girls to recover and tie up the score. Unfortunately, a Highlander foul gave Centreville two free throws that they sank, making the score 52-56 with less than a minute before the final buzzer.

Krikorian stood up to the challenge, making a quick layup to shorten the gap once again to only two points, now 54-56. As soon as the ball went through the net, a McLean timeout was called. Only 36.7 seconds remained.

The game only continued for another few seconds until Centreville called a timeout, with the scoreboard displaying 32.5 seconds left in the final quarter. A little more than half a minute would decide which team would move on to the next round of regionals, and which team’s season would come to an end.

The timeout ended, which was shortly followed by two McLean fouls. Centreville made all four free throws, giving the Wildcats a heartbreaking lead of 60-54 in the last several seconds of the game. Another McLean timeout was called. With 11.8 seconds on the clock, four points separated the celebrating team from the disappointed team.

Bremser attempted a buzzer-beating three pointer in the last two seconds, but missed. Yet another McLean foul was called with 1.3 seconds left of the game. At last, after what felt like a year-long quarter, the final buzzer rang, with the scoreboard displaying the end result, a Highlander loss to the Wildcats, 54-62.

As regional playoffs are single-elimination, this loss marked the end of the Highlander’s 2022-23 girls varsity basketball season and the end of three seniors’ high school basketball careers.

“[This year’s varsity team] is a fun group. They know when to be silly and when to focus,” Sobota said. “We will be losing a lot [next year] with Kara and Brooke and Shushan, but a lot of our younger kids have gotten experience that is invaluable. I feel pretty confident going into next season.”