Knights star Ka’lia Johnson stood stoically with her head bowed while the national anthem played, knowing that her and the Knights would have to play their best game of the season to avenge last season’s loss to Cosby and cut down the nets as regional champions. The Lady Knights fell just short of the goal, leading most of the game, but dropping a heartbreaker to Cosby 62-55 in the central region final.
“The first half and the first three quarters were Thomas Dale basketball,” said Thomas Dale head coach Kevin Coffey. “But we know it’s not how you start, but it’s how you finish.”
The first quarter was all Thomas Dale. The Lady Knights tallied 21 first quarter points and closed the first period red-hot on a 17-4 run, ignited by two post baskets by junior Megan Knickerbocker, and capped by a steal and lay-in by Johnson.
In the second period, Dale maintained a double digit lead most of the way.
Johnson had to leave the game at the 3:22 mark with an eye injury when Thomas Dale was up by ten points, 23-13. Cosby chipped away at the lead with two three-pointers by freshman guard Madi Conyers, and the Titans were able cut the lead to six going into the half.
Impressively, Thomas Dale out-rebounded Cosby in the first half 30-11 and 51-25 in the game. Post play had at times, been a sore spot for the Knights this season, but not on Monday.
“They [our post players] really came to play tonight, they have been working hard all season,” said Coffey. “We’ve been forcing and honing in on a collective team effort.”
The third quarter ended with Thomas Dale up 51-39, and into the fourth, the Lady Knights led by five with 3:50 left.
Johnson, who had been playing with four fouls, fouled out on an aggressive play that resulted in a charging call in the paint.
Then Cosby brought the press.
“It really became a psychological thing,” said Coffey. “At first the girls were caught up in the game and how they were getting bumped and beat up, and then as the game wore on [and in the fourth], it became something that simply overwhelmed them.”
The Titans would close the game on a 20-2 run en route to their second consecutive regional championship.
Ka’lia Johnson was named the Central Region player of the year, and Kevin Coffey was named the Central Region coach of the year.
By way of advancing to the regional final, Thomas Dale earned a berth at the VHSL Virginia State tournament. They will face Forest Hill. Time and location were unavailable at press time.