By Jamie Combs
HAMPTON — For much of Friday night’s game at VanHuss-White Gym, Hampton was wrapped inside a cocoon of lackluster play.
Nevertheless, the Lady Bulldogs are one victory from morphing into a substate team.
Leaning on a 21-6 third quarter, coach Leon Tolley’s squad retrieved a 59- 44 win over Washburn in the Region 1-A basketball quarterfinals.
“That’s twice in a row that they’ve got me,” Tolley said of his players. “Because I thought we were ready in the district final against Cloudland, and I thought we were ready tonight. I was proven wrong both times.”
With a substate berth at stake, the Lady Bulldogs (20-13) will meet Cosby (24-3) — a 64-57 winner over Unaka on Friday night — in Monday’s semifinal action at Chuckey-Doak Middle School. The contest tips off at 7:30 p.m.
Heavily favored in their tilt with Washburn (12-14), the Lady Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-6 first-quarter advantage behind eight points (two 3-pointers) from senior sub Haley Trusler — but regressed into a 22-22 halftime tie.
“In the first half I don’t think we were ready to play as much — I don’t think we were as focused (as needed) — but in the second half I thought we came out and executed pretty well and played more as a team,” said Trusler, who finished with 11 points. “In the long run, it paid off — for this game, anyway.”
The Lady Pirates committed 15 first-half turnovers, but Hampton proved competitive in that department with 11 — and was getting outrebounded (15- 12) by a smaller foe.
“I tried to tell (my team) that you win or you go home,” Tolley said. “It’s like dogs chasing cars — you’re going to get run over. I think first and foremost you have to give Washburn credit. We did jump on them 17-6 early, and they didn’t quit. They fought back and took the lead, and were playing well.”
Trusler described Hampton’s halftime session as “intense.”
Added Trusler: “Mr. Tolley told us what we needed to hear. He leads us pretty well and chews us out when we need it, and at other times, when we still need it, he helps us and leads us like a coach should.”
Dorothy Dugger, after scoring a game-high 20 points and totaling five steals, gave her take on Tolley’s halftime heat.
“He was pretty mad,” she said. “He said we weren’t playing as a team, that we were thinking about ourselves. After halftime, I think that we came together as a team and started playing better.”
Putting together a complete quarter in the third, the Lady Bulldogs opened with an 18-2 run that featured 11 points off the shooting hand of Dugger. Monica Olvera, Dugger and freshman Alexis Bowers each converted a Hampton 3-pointer in the period, which closed with Washburn trailing 43-28.
“I think when we (realized) it could be (the seniors) last game, we played for them,” Dugger said.
The Lady Pirates were able to edge back within 10 (43-33) at the 6:06 mark. From there, however, a Trusler 3-point play triggered a 9-0 surge that put the game on ice.
Olvera totaled six steals and a half-dozen rebounds for Hampton. Bowers (7 pts., 4 rebounds, 3 assists), whose importance increased after a first-quarter ankle injury hobbled senior guard Paige Dugger, was commended by Tolley for her play off the bench.
“She does well not only offensively, she’s probably the best defender we’ve got,” said Hampton’s coach. “We just alternated her and Olvera on their (No.) double-zero (Erin Frye), because she’s as quick as anybody we’ve seen. (Bowers is) a big plus for us, especially since Paige went down with her ankle.
“She’s been here half the year, and she’s learned. I still can’t get her to shoot the ball as much as I would like, but she’s the consummate team player. At this time of the year, that’s what you need.”
The Lady Bulldogs harvested eight rebounds from Paige Montgomery. Danielle Guinn added four thefts and Paige Dugger four assists, with Hannah Irick chipping in three assists in a reserve role.
Ericka Bunch accounted for 13 Washburn points, with Morgan Nicely netting 12 and Ashley Meyers 11. Frye pulled down 13 boards.
The two teams combined for 41 turnovers (Washburn 22, Hampton 19). The Lady Bulldogs captured a 31-27 rebounding edge as they reached the 20-win plateau for the 2011-12 campaign.
“If you had told me we’d win 20 games at the first of the year,” Tolley said, “I’d a said, ‘Yeah, but we’d probably have to play 80 to do it.”