Aldie, Va. — When a 10-win team travels to a 3-win team, there is often a clear cut favorite. But when No. 3 Freedom High school traveled to No. 7 John Champe High School for their second meeting of the season, the game did not start the way the Eagles had anticipated, proving once again that rivalry games can be the great equalizer.
However, after falling into a 9-point deficit in the first quarter, the Eagles chipped away little by little before eventually taking a 24-22 lead late in the third quarter and never looked back as they escaped their rival Knights, 29-24, on February 3 in Aldie.
“There’s no such thing as a 14 or 15 point play, so we just told them we need to keep cutting into the lead,” Freedom head coach Teddy Whitney said. “We wanted to be within 2 points heading into the fourth quarter and that’s the way it went.”
The Eagles got off to a sluggish start offensively while the Knights got going early. John Champe senior guard Zara Kotadiya knocked down a three, a jump shot, and a pair of free throws in the first quarter as her team took a 15-6 lead after the first eight minutes.
Knowing they needed to get going offensively, the Eagles turned to their bigs as junior center Marielle Thyen scored a pair of buckets early in the second quarter and leading scorer junior forward Grace Farrar got to the charity stripe to jumpstart the Freedom offense.
While the Eagles started to churn, Kotadiya maintained the Knights’ cushion with another triple and a finish inside the paint.
“We preach defense,” Whitney said. “When you don’t communicate, that’s when you get lost, and that’s what happened a little in the first half”
Late in the first half, Freedom turned back to Farrar who was fouled finishing at the rim and knocked down a free throw to complete the three-point play then hit a shot two possessions later to cut the John Champe lead to just 3 points at the half.
“Grace Farrar is Grace Farrar so you’re going to get what you’re going to get,” Whitney said.
Coming into the second half, it was all about the defense for the Eagles as junior guards Kenzy Elias and Rachel Koeneke picked up two steals and Thyen and sophomore forward Avery Strohecker added one each. Thyen also helped the Eagles dominate the glass with 10 boards as Freedom outrebounded John Champe, 27-14.
Unfortunately for the Knights, Kotadiya provided their only offensive production in the second half, when she scored just 4 points.
On the other end, Elias and Farrar contributed offensively in the second half, giving the Eagles enough support to escape their rival to close out a tough 3-day, 3-game stretch.
“We opened the week with Unity Reed on Tuesday night, we played Patriot last night, and then they moved this game up to tonight,” Whitney said. “Those are two really good teams, so our legs were shot, and it showed. In the last two minutes of the game, I think the kids decided they really wanted to play.”
When push came to shove, the Eagles (8-5, 11-9) dug deep and completed the comeback against their crosstown rivals to maintain the No. 3 spot in the Cedar Run District standings with just one regular season district game left on the schedule. If Freedom can beat Gainesville on February 8, they will officially lock up the No. 3 seed in the district.
“The kids just need to believe in one another and play with a little confidence,” Whitney said. “We’ll be okay.”
Derrick Jerry captured 50+ photos at the game!
John Champe Stats