Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks stood at the stop of the ladder about to trim the final strands from the net when the familiar thumping beat started blaring through the speakers of the arena.
The Hokies’ first Final Four berth deserved a little Metallica and a little “Enter Sandman.”
Elizabeth Kitley scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Georgia Amoore added 24 points and top-seeded Virginia Tech advanced to the Final Four with an 84-74 win over No. 3 seed Ohio State in the Seattle 3 Regional final on Monday night.
For the seventh time in the past 10 Final Fours there will be a first-time participant and it’s the champions of the ACC, adding another accomplishment to the best season in school history.
Playing in its first regional final, Virginia Tech (31-4) won its 15th straight game and will head to the Final Four having not lost in more than two months. The Hokies will face LSU in the national semi-finals on Friday in Dallas.
“We’re not just going to the Final Four. We’re in the Final Four. That’s something that means the world to me,” Brooks said.
Kitley, the Hokies 6-foot-6 centre and leading scorer this season, took over on the interior in the second half. She scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter and her three-point play gave Virginia Tech a 70-60 lead.
Amoore hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game to push the lead to 13. Ohio State pulled within six in the final minute, but the Hokies were nearly perfect at the foul line down the stretch.
After the final buzzer sounded, “Enter Sandman” blasted throughout Climate Pledge Arena for the first time, setting off an even louder party for the Hokies fans in attendance.
And it played again as Brooks stood on the ladder above the celebration.
“I don’t know if you envision it more than you dream it. Obviously this is not easy and one day I will sit back and realize how hard it was for us to get here and realize we are one of four teams standing,” Brooks said.
Amoore shook off the scare of a potential injury in the first half to scored 16 points in the second half. She had a career-high 29 in the regional semi-final win over Tennessee. Cayla King added 12 points, all in the first half for the Hokies.
“This group, we all come from different places, but this year we came together because we all wanted the same thing,” Kitley said. “It’s so nice to be at this spot but we know that we don’t want to be done either yet because we have so much fun playing together.”
Taylor Mikesell led Ohio State (28-8) with 25 points, but 19 of those came in the first half. Mikesell didn’t score the first 16 minutes of the second half before hitting a 3-pointer with 3:35 remaining.
Jacy Sheldon scored 19 and Big Ten freshman of the year Cotie McMahon added 18. But the pressure defence that Ohio State used to befuddle UConn into 25 turnovers in the regional semi-final was easily handled by Amoore and the Hokies in the opening minutes and mostly abandoned by the Buckeyes.
“I felt we were a little tired coming into it. We put so much energy into Saturday’s game and we didn’t quite have the same energy in the press,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “And when you don’t have it, it’s tough because you can really get but up on the back end and give up easy baskets.”
Ohio State was looking to join its Big Ten Conference partner Iowa in reaching the Final Four for the first time in 30 years. The Buckeyes stayed with Virginia Tech shot-for-shot through a highly entertaining and high scoring first half.
But the shots that dropped in the first 20 minutes stopped falling in the second half. Ohio State shot 64% in the first half, including five 3-pointer from Mikesell, but that dropped to just 28% in the second half.
“We got the stops we wanted. We didn’t make the most of them on offence,” Sheldon said. “We didn’t execute the way we wanted to. So props to them. They played a great game.”
Brooks is the third Black male coach to take a team to the women’s Final Four and second since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1994. Winthrop McGriff with Cheyney in 1984 and Quentin Hillsman with Syracuse in 2016 were the others. Brooks is in his seventh season in Blacksburg.
“I do know that when I was trying to make a name for myself, there wasn’t very many people that were doing it or advocating for people that looked like me. In this profession, I think that we belong. I think that there’s a place for Black males to come in and be a positive influence,” Brooks said before the Sweet 16.