By David Rogers. February 5, 2018. HICKORY, NC — With just over one minute to go in the first half of Monday’s women’s basketball game at St. Stephens High, Watauga’s Pioneers took their first lead of the night, 32-31, then expanded it to take a 36-31 lead into the locker room at halftime. It was a narrow advantage that wouldn’t last long.
It would actually get better. Thanks to the Pioneers finding the defensive mojo they had left in the locker room before the opening tipoff, Watauga outscored the Indians 19-2 in the third quarter to take a commanding, 55-33 lead as they entered the final stanza, all en route to a convincing, 66-49 win.
For Watauga, it was their 18th straight win after opening the season with two consecutive losses and preserves their perfect, 12-0 Northwestern Conference record for the 2017-2018 campaign.
Perhaps discomforting for the many family, friends, and fans who follow the Lady Pioneers, Watauga seems to have settled into a pattern of falling behind early, rallying, and then cruising on to convincing wins. It is a pattern that sets the stage for exciting comebacks, but results in a lot of chewed fingernails among the faithful in the stands.
The entire Watauga team executed a shutdown defense that only allowed St. Stephens to score two points in the third period. Meanwhile, guards Cailey Haas, Madie Darner and Brooke Byrd led the Pioneer charge on the offensive end of the court. In that pivotal third quarter alone, Haas accounted for seven of the team’s 19 points, while Darner and Byrd contributed four apiece.
And all three, along with power forward Parris Bolick and fellow guards Maddisen Robinson and Rebekah Farthing seemed forever well-positioned to collect both offensive and defensive rebounds against their taller opponents. Byrd, Haas and Robinson, especially, were adept at quickly initiating up-court attacks after collecting an errant St. Stephens shot.
Byrd tied with St. Stephens 6-1 center Tori Tomlinson for game-high scoring honors, with 19, including 11 of those in the first quarter in leading the Pioneers back from the early deficit. Darner finished with 14 points, eight of them in the second period when she took over leadership of the comeback rally that Byrd had started. Haas scored all 12 of her points in the second half.
Besides Tomlinson, only one other St. Stephens player finished in double figures. Thanks to an 8-point outburst in the final period, guard Ryleigh Rhodes had 12 points at the final buzzer.
The Pioneers return to the friendly confines of Lentz-Eggers Gym on Tuesday (Feb. 6) for Senior Night and a highly anticipated rematch with longtime nemesis, Morganton-Freedom. While the Pioneers have an unblemished 12-0 record to sit atop the Northwestern Conference heading into the regular season’s final week, the Patriots are 11-1 and chomping at the bit for a probable share of the regular season conference championship should they upset Watauga.
MaxPreps.com has Watauga ranked 31st among women’s high school basketball teams at all levels in North Carolina, 4th in the state at the 3A Class level. At 17-4 overall, Freedom is ranked 10th, with a slightly higher strength of schedule rating than the Pioneers’.
In the two teams’ previous encounter this season, in Morganton, Watauga’s Robinson and Darner combined for 31 points in the Pioneers 52-44 win.
- 19 — Tori Tomlinson
- 12 — Ryleigh Rhodes
- 7 — Makayla Stafford
- 6 — Amiya Randles
- 3 — Alaysha McHenry
- 2 — Lyndsey O’Mara
- 19 — Brooke Byrd
- 14 — Madie Darner
- 12 — Cailey Haas
- 6 — Parris Bolick
- 5 — Maddisen Robinson
- 4 — Paige Bolick
- 4 — Rebekah Farthing
- 2 –Molly Ward