By David Rogers. February 22, 2018. WAXHAW, NC — On a night when the game officials were “letting the girls play” – hardly calling a foul for anything, especially in the first half — it was a questionable call with 0.3 seconds remaining in the game and with the score tied at 45-45 that proved difference maker. Watauga’s 46-45 controversial loss to Cuthbertson on Thursday in the second round of the North Carolina 3A State Playoffs sent the Pioneers packing for the season and the Cavaliers on to the third round.
COVER IMAGE: Head coach Laura Barry (kneeling) plots strategy that would allow Watauga to come back late in the game and take its first lead with 2:02 remaining. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Until the Pioneers pushed ahead for the first time at 41-40 with 2:02 remaining in the game, the taller, more physical Cavaliers had the upper hand. The host Cuthbertson five led 10-5 at the end of the first quarter, 17-11 at halftime, and even 32-26 after the third period.
It was fitting for a #8 seed (Cuthbertson) to be closely challenged by a #9 seed (Watauga).
Trailing 40-37 with little more than two minutes remaining, Pioneer point guard Maddisen Robinson found nothing but net from above the key and behind the 3-point arc to tie the game at 40-40 for the first time. Then with 2:02 showing on the clock, Watauga power forward and Blowing Rock resident Parris Bolick was fouled underneath in the act of shooting. The senior calmly sank her first free throw to put the Pioneers ahead for the first time. Sinking her second put the visitors from Boone ahead, 42-40.
Those things are out of our control.
It was Robinson again at the charity stripe with just 48 seconds remaining when she was fouled driving to the basket. Her layup somehow made it in through the morass of Cavalier arms, and when her free throw fell through the hoop, Watauga had a 45-42 advantage.
Cuthbertson center Lillian Anderson tied the game at 45-45 with just 30 seconds left when she scrambled to the basket on the other end of the court, wildly throwing up a layup attempt that glanced the side of the rim, bounced once against the bracket holding the basket to the backboard, then rolled halfway around the rim before dropping through — and she was awarded a foul shot, which she sank to complete the 3-point play and tie the game.
Now with less than 30 seconds, the Pioneers had one more possession to try and put the game away. Robinson brought the ball down court before a flurry of passes around the top of the key between Robinson, senior shooting guard Madie Darner, and sophomores Rebekah Farthing and Brooke Byrd. With the clock winding down, it was Byrd who saw an opening down low. Her contested runner from the baseline was short (no foul called) and Bolick was in position underneath for the rebound and put back. Unfortunately, she lost control when she was mauled from behind by Dillinger (no foul called).
In picking up the loose ball and spinning up court, the Cavaliers’ sophomore guard Lauren Hardman got her feet tangled and fell, making contact at the same time with Bolick, who was mysteriously charged with a blocking foul, with just 0.3 seconds on the clock. Worse, it was the tenth foul of the half for the Pioneers, which put Cuthbertson into double bonus, meaning that Hardman would have two shots at the other end. Her first attempt clanged off the rim to the right, but her second fell through to put the Cavaliers ahead by the final margin.
The excitement wasn’t quite done. Receiving the in-bounds pass from Robinson, Darner whirled and let fly a desperation shot from half court. A valiant effort, but it glanced off the front of the rim, just short, as the buzzer sounded.
This game should have been decided in overtime.
In yet another example of controversial officiating that seemed to favor Cuthbertson, in video replays the ball is seen having left Darner’s hands with 0.1 seconds on the clock — but the near-side official was already seen waving off the shot as too late. If there is a silver lining in Darner’s miss, it is the mayhem avoided — and that official’s embarrassment averted — had the Pioneer senior’s final shot made it into the hoop.
WATA-AM radio announcer Mike Kelly, a longtime follower of North Carolina high school sports and all things Watauga, was generous in speaking with Blowing Rock News afterwards explaining, “These more urban schools play a more physical game and the officiating is very different than in the Northwestern Conference. Adding to that, Watauga is more of a finesse team and has not done well in physical-type games this year. But what a crazy finish. It is a game that should have been allowed to go into overtime.”
Another veteran high school basketball observer who spoke on condition of not being identified observed, “There is a high correlation between the fouls called in this game and which team had momentum. Few fouls were called against either team in the first half and Watauga suffered because they do not do well with the physical play that results from fouls not being called. As a team that is taught aggressive, pestering defense but in a way so as not to foul, it doesn’t work in the Pioneers’ favor when their opponent goes beyond that fine line of aggressive defense and gets away with harder physical play.
“But what bothered me the most about this game,” he added, “was the inconsistency in the officiating. In the second half, Watauga was battling back but every time they seemed to catch momentum, someone was flagged for a foul. Those fouls were probably called properly and would have been called on just about any court in the land. But the same offenses were NOT being called on the other end, against Cuthbertson, and believe me they were occurring. Video replay will probably show Farthing time and again driving to the basket and her arms being grabbed by one, sometimes two or three Cavalier players and a foul not being called. You just have to look at the numbers. At the end of the third quarter, eight fouls had been called against Watauga, just two against Cuthbertson. As an official, you have to call it both ways.
I don’t understand that last call and I won’t understand it for the next year.
“They finally began to call some fouls against Cuthbertson in the fourth quarter,” he continued with his analysis, “and Watauga started to compete on an even playing field — and they were able to pull ahead late in the game. But then in crunch time, the inconsistency in officiating again seemed to favor the home team. Byrd was fouled driving the baseline, but nothing called. Bolick is in great position to come down with the rebound and put the ball back up, but she is clobbered from behind and nothing called. As a result, she loses control of the ball and in trying to recover it she has incidental contact with the Cuthbertson player who grabbed the ball and fell down as she spun up court. Foul called on Bolick. With all of the no-calls that had clearly occurred earlier, to call that foul with virtually no time remaining makes no sense at all. The game should have been settled in overtime.”
Cuthbertson’s Dillinger, a 6-0 freshman, led all scorers with 16 points on the night. Darner and Farthing recorded 15 and 14, respectively, for the Pioneers.
Afterwards, the Watauga players interviewed by Blowing Rock News were disappointed at the result, but graciously accepted the loss and wanted instead to focus on the overall season and their experience with this Pioneer team.
“It was a tight, close game,” observed Byrd. “Both teams definitely pushed hard. We fought to the end. There were some unfortunate calls that were made, but we did our best. Those things are out of our control.”
Sophomore Mattie Suggs was brought up from the junior varsity to be on the Watauga varsity roster for the last couple of games. Standing next to Byrd, she told Blowing Rock News, “It is such an honor to have been called up to play with these women, all of whom I look up to.”
Byrd interjected, “Mattie is just as much a part of our Watauga team as anyone. That is the way this team is. We all play as a unit, together. We all play for each other.”
“We played really hard in the second half,” Watauga’s Haas acknowledged. “It is really disappointing to see a call like that, but I wish them (Cuthbertson) well in the playoffs. This is the best season I have ever experienced, because we have been the closest, most amazing team I have ever been a part of. I’m looking forward to next year. I want to start practicing tomorrow.”
“This is the greatest team I have ever played on, in my life,” offered Bolick. “I have played on so many different teams. This has been the greatest of all and measures so far above the others. The bond we have as teammates, it is like a sisterhood. We work well together and we have such good synergy.”
Speaking about her final game as a Pioneer, Bolick noted, “We were seeing a team (Cuthbertson) for the first time and that is always a challenge. At halftime we changed some things on both offense and defense and figured out how to work stronger, together.”
I am really mad tonight. I will be really sad tomorrow.
“I thought we did a great job in the second half,” Pioneer head coach Laura Barry told reporters afterward. “We played more composed. There were a lot of nerves in the first half and I just don’t think we were quite ourselves. I was happy we were only down six at halftime. Cuthbertson is a pretty good team and they have some (talented) athletes.
“We were able to stay tough, defensively,” Barry added, “but our offense was totally out of whack. But in the second half we attacked very well and got the shots we wanted.
“This is a game that should have been decided in overtime,” the second year Pioneer mentor continued. “The play was that good on both sides. I am proud of our seniors and the way they led us all year. Obviously, they rely on the teammates around them to pick up that weight. Madie was easy to go to tonight and Maddisen had some big plays late. Parris does so many little things that I don’t think people really notice, but she was huge in that defense for us, the way she covers and battles inside. She got in some foul trouble against #22 (Dillinger) and #32 (Anderson). We knew coming in that these kids were big and could play.
“This was a really competitive game,” Barry concluded. “No one was really able to take over. I don’t understand that last whistle, especially within the context of how much they weren’t calling for the rest of the game, and I won’t understand for the next year…I am really mad tonight. I will be really sad tomorrow.”
Cuthbertson (21-5) now moves on to the third round where they will face undefeated Ashbrook (28-0) of Gastonia, a 62-47 winner over Southeast Guilford in the second round on Tuesday.