An elderly woman left William Fleming High School on Tuesday wearing a T-shirt that read: “Proud Grandma of Taniah Johnson, ‘Girl on Fire.’ ”
Truer words were never written.
Johnson scorched Patrick Henry for 21 points, propelling Fleming to a 57-46 victory that gave the Colonels the Region 5D girls basketball championship for the second year in a row.
Senior running mate Kensey Ferguson added 18 points as Fleming (23-3) earned the Region’s top spot Friday in the Class 5 quarterfinals. The Colonels will take on Freedom-South Riding in a game that will be played at Patrick Henry at 7 p.m.
The Colonels were in the same spot 12 months ago when their 2017-18 season ended 83-65 at the hands of powerful Thomas Edison.
Johnson doesn’t want to settle for going one step beyond last year’s team.
“We’re looking to win the state championship this year,” the senior guard said.
Fleming put the heat on Patrick Henry from the opening tip.
The Colonels raced to a 13-0 lead as Johnson opened the scoring with a three-point play, followed by 3-pointers by Victoria Board and Shakara Anderson, and two-point shots by Ferguson and Jermya Ollie.
Patrick Henry (20-6) never got closer than six the rest of the game, falling to its city rival for the second time this season.
“They were just better tonight,” PH coach Mike Hedrick said. “When you work really hard you put yourself out there and you’re just not good enough.
“I really thought we’d come out and have a great start and it just didn’t happen. Every time we left them open they hit a shot.”
Fleming bagged eight 3-pointers with Ferguson hitting three and Johnson adding a pair.
Johnson also was 5 for 5 from the line on a night when PH made just 10 of 22.
Leading 51-39 with 3:38 to play, the Colonels put the game away with back-to-back 3-pointers by Johnson and reserve Lanie Bethel.
Fleming’s accuracy is no accident.
“We work on it every single day,” Ferguson said of the team’s perimeter shooting. “Every day at the beginning of practice we do ‘game’ shots.”
Fleming moved the ball quickly and had shooters stationed in open spots.
“We made the extra pass when we needed it and we made the open shot when we needed it,” first-year Fleming coach Richard Wilson said.
“It came down to which team wanted it more. Our seniors stepped up and made some big shots for us.”
Fleming was more than ready to perform before a huge crowd that spilled into the upper reaches of the Colonels’ gym.
Ferguson said the nerves were evident.
“In the beginning, a little bit, but as the game gets going you just have to step it up and ignore the crowd,” she said.
Patrick Henry had a big size advantage inside with sophomore forward Savannah Derey and twin posts Monesha Wright and Jemoni Carter.
However, the Patriots were unable to exploit Fleming’s lack of height. Instead, the Colonels turned the tables by using quick hands and feet to pilfer eight turnovers in the first quarter and 19 for the game.
“We’re literally a team full of guards,” Wilson said. “That’s why we try to put a little pressure on the ball, make them think a little bit.”
PH did some damage in the second half running physical senior guard Serena Lytton on some clear-outs as she finished with 16 points to go with 13 by Derey.
It wasn’t close to enough.
With Fleming leading 41-35 early in the fourth quarter, Johnson converted two difficult drives in the lane, showing that she is more than a stationary shooter.
“It comes from practice,” Johnson said. “If you don’t go hard in practice, you’re not going to go hard in the game.”
Patrick Henry has a very tough test in Friday’s quarterfinal.
The Patriots must face Thomas Edison in a game at Hayfield High School in Alexandria.
“Fleming played an exceptional ballgame,” Hedrick said. “We just didn’t do as well. I take full responsibility for that.”