By David Rogers. February 6, 2018. BOONE, NC — For Watauga High School women’s basketball team, there is nothing “lucky” about the number “seven,” because it was a pair of sevens that proved the Pioneers’ undoing Tuesday night in a 61-59 overtime loss to Morganton-Freedom.
COVER IMAGE: Watauga’s Brooke Byrd (1) battles past Freedom’s CC Davenport for an early basket when she scored 8 points in the second quarter. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
The loss brought Watauga’s almost fairy tale, 18-game winning streak to a screeching halt — and in at least one respect the Lady Pioneers were victims of their own success. Presented with a game-ending challenge for the first time since the second game of the 2017-2018 season, they simply wilted, unable to protect a 6-point lead held midway through the fourth quarter.
Behind strong inside play by Patriot sophomore guard Blaikley Crooks that produced seven points in the final period of regulation play and a three-point dagger from freshman forward/guard Adair Garrison, Freedom was able to tie the game at 49-49 and send the game into overtime.
The visitors’ senior guard Amaiya Williams was relatively quiet for most of the night, but she picked up on Crooks’ momentum in overtime, producing seven points of her own to lead the Patriots’ OT effort.
But the root cause of Watauga’s uncharacteristic late meltdown may well be the mid-season coaching adjustments by Freedom head coach Amber Reddick. In her 14 years at the helm of the women’s basketball program, Reddick has undoubtedly made a lot of mid-game and even mid-season adjustments en route to a career coaching record of 303-90. The Patriots’ adjustments before and during this game were spot on, and in all probability wrested away from Watauga at least a share of the Northwestern Conference regular season championship.
To win on this night, Reddick may well have reached back into Olivia Newton-John’s discography archive, all the way back to her 1981 hit, “Physical,” because that seemed to be the primary difference between Tuesday night’s Patriot performance and the game on January 12th, when Watauga defeated Freedom on their home court in Morganton, 52-44. Where the Patriots had a hard time staying with the Pioneers’ fast-paced tempo and disruptive defense in January, on Tuesday they took it to Watauga in as physical of a game as the Pioneers have played this year.
By taking the ball to the hoop, Freedom attracted 17 Watauga fouls and by playing up-close-and-personal defense on the other end of the court, the Patriots committed 21 fouls. While the Pioneers were successful from the charity stripe 19-of-24 times, the intensely physical play disrupted their rhythm. They simply missed shots normally made.
Watauga senior point guard Maddisen Robinson did her part, accounting for 15 of her 21 total points in the second half and added three more in overtime. Her nine points in the fourth quarter when her teammates had mostly grown cold prevented a loss in regulation. The only other offensive contributors in the 4th quarter were junior guard Cailey Haas (2) and Madie Darner (3).
From the outset, Watauga celebrated Senior Night by breaking from a recent pattern of falling pretty far behind, rallying and then running away with the game. This time, with seniors Darner, Robinson, Parris Bolick and Alyssa Lopez getting the start alongside sophomore guard Rebekah Farthing, Watauga looked like they would fashion a runaway victory right from the get-go. The Pioneers jumped out to 5-0 and 6-2 leads before Freedom had their shoelaces tied.
But the Patriots climbed back into the contest with strong inside play from Crooks and center/forward CC Davenport and by first quarter’s end held a 10-8 lead. That advantage was short-lived, however, as Watauga “super soph” guard Brooke Byrd pumped in eight points in the second period, with Bolick, Robinson and Haas adding four, three and two points respectively, enabling the Pioneers to take a confident, 25-20 lead into intermission.
Even though leading 45-40 with just under four minutes remaining in the ball game, Watauga was unable to finish.
Reached after the game, Blowing Rock News asked Brooke Byrd for her thoughts on the evening’s outcome.
“It was a good, hard fought, close basketball game,” she observed before adding with a smile, “We didn’t get it done. But guess what? We’ll probably see them again in the conference tournament.”
Freedom and Watauga are currently deadlocked atop the Northwestern Conference standings with 12-1 conference records. Each of the teams’ respective losses were to the other. Freedom is 18-4 overall, while Watauga is 18-3 overall.
To close out the regular season, Watauga travels to West Caldwell on Friday, a team the Pioneers demolished at home on January 24th, 66-14. Freedom has a tougher opponent in hosting McDowell, 9-4 in conference and 15-8 overall. At McDowell on January 16th, Freedom prevailed, 53-47.
Looking For A Tie-Breaker?
Based at least on previous results, there is a high probability that Freedom and Watauga will be tied for first in the conference standings, so league officials may have to resort to a tiebreaker procedure to determine which team gets the #1 seed and the other the #2 seed.
According to our review of the North Carolina High School Athletics Association rules relating to conference tournament seedings, here is what we understand:
- If Watauga wins on Friday and Freedom loses to McDowell, then Watauga will get the top seed in the conference tournament by virtue of Watauga having a 13-1 record and Freedom having a 12-2 record
- If Watauga loses on Friday and Freedom wins, then Freedom gets the top seed by virtue of having the better conference record
- If both teams lose or both teams win, both will still have identical records and they will have split their head to head competition. No other team can tie (should both lose), so they will remain tied. According to NCHSAA rules as we understand them, two slips of paper with #1 and #2 (the seeds available to the two schools) will be dropped into a “hat” and (a representative from each school) will draw from the hat. The number drawn will reflect their conference tournament seeding.
- 14 — Blaikley Crooks
- 12 — Adair Garrison
- 11 — CC Davenport
- 10 — Amaiya Williams
- 8 — Aysha Short
- 6 — Madison Bailey
- 21 — Maddisen Robinson
- 11 — Brooke Byrd
- 7 — Rebekah Farthing
- 7 — Parris Bolick
- 7 — Madie Darner
- 4 — Cailey Haas
- 2 — Molly Ward