By David Rogers. January 30, 2020. BOONE, NC — It was far from a “slam dunk” victory, but #2 seeded Blowing Rock earned the Watauga Middle School Girls Championship trophy Thursday night at Lentz-Eggers Gym with an upset victory, 33-38, over top-seeded Cove Creek.
COVER IMAGE: Nora Russom (33) gets down to business in fighting for a loose ball vs. Cove Creek in the girls championship final. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
The grandstands had all but filled up by the time the girls’ championship final tipped off. Traveling violations plagued both sides, but especially disrupted Blowing Rock possessions. The low-scoring first quarter finally ended with the Rockets leading, but somewhat tenuously, 4-1. Blowing Rock’s key playmakers got on the scoreboard in te first period, Kate Sears with a pair of free throws and Katie Durham knocked down a bucket from in close. Cove Creek’s lone ducat came as a successful free throw by Laney Shook.
The second quarter proved to be more of the same, with numerous traveling violations. The Raiders outscored Blowing Rock in the second stanza, 7-4, pulling the #1 seed into an 8-8 tie when the clock ticked down to zero before intermission. Cove Creek’s scoring in the second quarter was evenly spread among four players, including Madi Combs (1 point), Lilli Combs (2), Shook (2) and Bailey Main (2). Meanwhile ball-handling turnovers and traveling violations continued to frustrate the Rockets in the period, their only points coming from Sears (2) and K. Durham (2). The first half ended with the score knotted at eight points apiece, a low-scoring defensive affair.
Durham and Sears added four apiece in the third period to account for Blowing Rock’s only points to open the second half. Cove Creek got a big 3-pointer from Evie Robbins, with two points apiece coming from Lilli Combs and Main. The net result was a tenuous, 16-15 advantage in favor of the Rockets heading into the final period.
Blowing Rock has frequently used a clock-wasting strategy when ahead by a couple of possessions or more in the 4th quarter, and did not deviate from that tactic in this game. As head coach Martha Trimble explained it to Blowing Rock News after the semifinal game, “It is our best strategy primarily for avoiding turnovers.” As the clock winds down, it also forces an opposing team to intentionally foul Blowing Rock’s ball-handlers, which puts them at the free-throw line.
Ahead by five points, 23-18, with 2:20 remaining on the clock, Sears began her “dribbling clinic” just over the midcourt line, daring the Raiders to foul her and send the sharpshooting 7th grader to the charity stripe.
Eventually, the Cove Creek quintet on the floor had no choice but to foul Sears, send her to the line, and hope that she failed to convert. Much to their dismay, Sears was successful on 5-of-6 foul attempts in the fourth quarter, 7-of-10 for the entire game.
When Sears wasn’t going to the line, the Raiders were forced to foul Katie Durham and E.T. Tilley. Durham hit on two field goals in the final stanza (4 points) and completed her 4th quarter scoring by converting two of three free throws. Starter Nora Russom also hit on a pair of three throws in the final period, on two attempts. Four Rockets combined for 17 points in the final period, 11 by free throws, with four players sharing the workload from the charity stripe.
To protect their lead, use up more time, and frustrate Cove Creek’s offensive plans, the Rockets employed a full-court press that was rarely broken in the fourth quarter.
Now the County’s middle school champion, Blowing Rock head coach Martha Trimble smiled broadly afterward when reminded that it was just a year ago that the Rockets had lost in the final to Parkway.
“Of course, so many of our girls are a year older and just that much more experienced,” Trimble noted, “but they work so hard at getting better every day. I am just so proud of their commitment to playing for each other and to represent the school. This was closer than is really comfortable, and for that you have to give a lot of credit to Cove Creek. They had a plan and they competed very effectively with that plan. This was a good win for us, a happy ending to a fun, as well as satisfying season of basketball.”
- BR – Katie Durham (14)
- BR – Kate Sears (13)
- CC – Bailey Main (8)
- CC – Laney Shook (5)
- CC – Lilli Combs (4)
- CC – Madi Combs (3)
- CC – Evie Robbins (3)
- CC – TEAM (3)
- BR – Nora Russom (2)
- BR – E.T. Tilley (2)
- BR – Mattie Durham (2)