A strong second-half performance by the William Monroe girls basketball team erased a painfully sluggish start for the Dragons as they defeated Jefferson Forest 50-26 on Saturday in the Play for Preemies Showcase at Western Albemarle High School.

The Jefferson Forest defense forced 12 turnovers in the game, most of them coming in the first half. Monroe appeared to settle in offensively during the second half and began to pull away, taking an eight-point lead into the final quarter. It was then that the Dragons finally appeared at complete ease, going on a 16-0 run to start the final stanza to win convincingly.

“We started tight; we’ve been tight the past three games,” William Monroe coach Jess Stafford said. “Playing not to lose instead of just playing. Once we just let go and stop squeezing so hard, it’s just play a game. They know what to do, we’ve been doing this for years now. You get the strategy, you know defensively what we’re supposed to do, you know offensively what we’re supposed to do, stop squeezing so hard.”

Time and time again in the final quarter, Monroe fed the ball into the low post, where Chloe Rush seemed to bulldoze her opponents. Rush scored seven of her 12 points in the final quarter and also made her presence felt on the defensive end with three steals and three blocks to go along with eight rebounds.

“I was very proud of her and how she performed and just let it go and played,” Stafford said of Rush. “It’s a big deal to watch her grow the way she’s been growing. She’s had a good year. She can be up and down at times but when she is on, she is very difficult to stop because she is so physical.”

The final quarter was a complete flip of the script compared to how the game opened. Both teams scored just five points in the first quarter and the score continued to remain close early in the second quarter. Late in the second, Monroe began to create a bit of separation on the scoreboard as Martha Apple and Ella Weaver sparked a 9-0 run to end the first half.

During the stretch, the Dragons took their first lead of the contest with 2:46 remaining before the break when Apple scored in the paint after receiving an assist from teammate Hailey Morris. The Cavaliers kept the score close, however, behind the play of senior Paris Pettitt, who connected on four 3-pointers in the game, three of which came in the second quarter. Pettitt ended the game with 16 points for Jefferson Forest.

In addition to the superb all-around performance from Rush, Apple and Weaver each finished with a double-double for the Dragons. Apple had 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Weaver ended the night with 12 points and 10 boards. Morris added seven assists on the evening.

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