By David Rogers. February 21, 2017. BOONE, NC — After scoring 12 unaswered points to open Tuesday night’s game against Greensboro’s Ben L. Smith High School in the first round of the North Carolina 4A State Tournament, Watauga nearly gave the game away in the second half.
All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
The Pioneers led 28-18 at intermission, but an effective full court press and strong defense propelled the visitors to Lentz Eggers Gymnasium to a grind ’em out rally in the third period. The Golden Eagles finally tied the game at 30-30 with 3:36 remaining in the third quarter, then surged into their first lead of the night with 4:41 remaining in the game at 42-41. After flip-flopping leads for a few more points, the Pioneers found themselves again and cruised to a hard fought, 54-48 victory.
Historically, the more urban high school basketball leagues have proven, top to bottom, to be much stronger than the Northwestern Conference in which Watauga competes. So even though Ben L Smith finished 4th in the All Metro 4A Conference, Watauga head coach Laura Barry and her young charges knew they would have a battle waiting for them if advancing to the second round of the state tournament was a short-term goal.
All of those bad passes and turnovers are really uncharacteristic of this team.
“I think we escaped with this one,” Pioneer head coach Laura Barry admitted to Blowing Rock News afterwards. “We had a good game plan going in. Our defense was really good, for the most part, at least in the first half. We also looked confident on offense in the first half.
“But Ben L. Smith played a great second half,” continued Barry, “and I think we were a little shaken up by them. We knew they wouldn’t go away and you really have to credit them for their ability to keep fighting. They even took the lead late in the 4th quarter and challenged us.
“I am proud of our team for how we handled those challenges and the pressure that they brought,” said the first year Watauga head coach. “We could have easily folded and be talking about a loss right now. But we dug in our heels, scored some buckets, and built that lead back up.”
We want to keep playing.
Barry noted that the turnovers throughout the game but especially in the second half were worrisome. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” she conceded. “And all of those bad passes and ball-handling errors are really uncharacteristic for this team. I think we were forcing passes when we could have been the scorer. It speaks to the selflessness of this team when they try to give up the scoring opportunity to a teammate, but sometimes the best choice is to take the shot yourself.
“What Ben L Smith was doing on defense,” Barry added, “was effective for them in the second half. They were pressing. I don’t think it was that strong of a press, but our eyes kind of opened wide and we were saying, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a press!’ As the coach I will take a measure of responsibility. We have to be better prepared for that. We got a little jittery, but eventually we came back around and calmed down.”
Senior forward Olivia Williamson put her team’s goals into perspective in telling Blowing Rock News, “It’s been a long time since Watauga’s women have had a home game for the playoffs, so we definitely wanted this win here at home. We want to keep playing. We are not ready to be done with the season yet.”
Freshman guard Rebekah Farthing interjected, “From watching film, we expected to win. They seemed to be pretty strong on offense, but at practice we were determined to pick on their weaknesses. So we were really focused on what we felt they weren’t good at.”
I think we escaped with this one.
When Blowing Rock News pointed out that Farthing and fellow freshman guard Brooke Byrd were especially effective on defense in the first half with steals and blocks, Farthing shared, “We noticed in watching film that they have a tendency to just focus in right away on to whom they were going to pass. So Brooke and I had good opportunities to anticipate their passes.”
Junior guard Madie Darner was again the high scorer for Watauga, with 19 points, including 9 in the pivotal fourth quarter. One of the stoutest performances of the evening was recorded by Maddisen Robinsen, inserted into the point guard role with senior PG Karson Hamrick still out with a head injury suffered during last week’s conference tournament semifinal game against Hickory. Robinson finished with 10 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from the foul line in the final period.
Farthing added 11 points for the Pioneers to also make double figures in scoring. Her scoring line included a perfect 3-for-3 shooting from the charity stripe.
Symphony Jackson (10 points), Harmony Fletcher (13) and Destiny McCullough (10) led the Golden Eagles in scoring.
With the win, Watauga advances to the second round and will host West Forsyth (Winston-Salem) on Thursday, 6:00 pm, at the Pioneers’ Lentz-Eggers Gym. West Forsyth (23-5 overall, 10-2 in the Central Piedmont 4A Conference) was a 60-45 victor over Harding University HS (Charlotte) on Tuesday night. West Forsyth finished second behind R.J. Reynolds HS during the regular season.
OTHER REGIONAL WOMEN’S BASKETBALL STATE TOURNAMENT RESULTS
In other Tuesday night 4A action of regional interest, 25th-seeded South Caldwell (Hudson, NC) lost its opening round matchup with 5th-ranked Page HS (Greensboro), 44-36.
Freedom (#3 seed, Morganton) handily prevailed over Cox Mill (Concord, NC), 64-31, while 14th-ranked Hickory HS walloped Piedmont HS, 70-27, in 3A action.
Ashe County was nipped by Stuart Cramer (Belmont, NC), 44-43 to end its 2A basketball season, while West Caldwell fell to North Surry, 49-25. Meanwhile, in 1A matchups, Avery County convincingly defeated South Stanley (Norwood, NC), 73-28.
Ben L. Smith HS
- 13 — Harmony Fletcher
- 10 — Destiny McCullough
- 10 — Symphony Jackson
- 9 — D.J. Jackson
- 6 — India Sturdivant
- 19 — Madie Darner
- 11 — Rebekah Farthing
- 10 — Maddisen Robinson
- 4 — Brooke Byrd
- 4 — Olivian Williamson
- 4 — Alden McClure
- 2 — Kat Stapleton