It was not a time for the faint of heart to be at Waverly High School on Monday, Feb. 22, especially if you were a fan of the North Adams Lady Devils. After knocking off county rival Peebles in a Division III sectional championship game, the Lady Devils moved into district tournament play on Monday night and a very tough match up with the Nelsonville-York Lady Buckeyes out of the Tri-Valley Conference.
The young ladies from North Adams did not take it easy on the hearts and emotions of their very large contingent of fans, falling behind by 10 points at halftime before putting together a furious second half rally to come from behind, scoring the final eight points of the game to pull off a miraculous 57-54 win and move to the district championship game.
“We got down 10 at halftime and knew we didn’t have to get it all back at once, just chip away,” said Davis in his post game radio interview. “We just had to keep our heads in the game and make good decisions.”
“We knew they were going to pressure us and we were fine with that. If we kept attacking and kept the ball in the middle of the floor, then good things would happen.”
On the floor at the historic “downtown” gymnasium in Waverly, the Lady Devils showed some early jitters on Monday, turning the ball over on their first three possessions, and then totaling 15 for the first half, not their usual mode of operation, instead rather wanting to be the ones forcing the turnovers. The Lady Buckeyes took advantage to grab an early 7-4 lead, but that vanished rapidly after free throws by Staci Dinsmore and Lakyn Hupp plus a Taylor Hesler basket put North Adams up 9-7.
A three-pointer by Nelsonville’s Camrin Dupler flipped the scoreboard and the two teams traded buckets and the lead until the pressure defense of the Lady Bucks forced more North Adams turnovers and a 6-0 run for a 17-13 lead. With momentum moving to the Nelsonville side, the Lady Devils caught a huge break when Hupp was fouled with just 0.7 seconds left in the first period and hit two free throws to make it 17-15 at the first break.
That momentum swung right back to the Lady Buckeyes in the opening minutes of the second quarter and a three-point goal by Mary Kate McCulloch put them up 26-18 and forced North Adams coach Rob Davis to burn a timeout to settle his team down. After the timeout, the Lady Bucks got a pair of free throws to take a double digit lead, but five quick points by Avery Harper sliced that lead in half.
The up-tempo, fast-paced Nelsonville offense continued to attack and a three-pointer by Sam Taylor was part of a 9-2 run near the end of the first half that send the Lady Buckeyes to the locker room with a 37-27 advantage on the scoreboard.
“They got in some foul trouble in the first half and we just wanted to keep pounding the ball inside, but we kept settling for the outside shot,” said Davis. “We couldn’t stop their dribble penetration the first half but did a much better job in the second half.”
Faced with a rare double figures deficit, the Lady Devils regained some composure during the intermission, no doubt with some gentle prodding from Coach Davis, and an 8-0 third quarter run pulled them within 41-37. After a Nelsonville basket, North Adams made it a 12-2 run with a jumper by Dinsmore and a put back by Hupp, but a runner at the buzzer by Jessie Addis kept the Lady Buckeyes in front, though by just 45-41 heading to the final period of play.
It wasn’t long into the fourth quarter that the North Adams side of the gym erupted as their Lady Devils scored the first seven points of the period. First, it was an offensive rebound and score from Harper, then a coast-to-coast score by Dinsmore, and then a three ball from the left wing by Hesler that gave North Adams the lead at 48-45.
Nelsonville bounced right back with two scores to go back up by one, and it became quite evident to everyone in attendance that this contest was going to be a nail-biter right down to the wire. A Harper free throw tied the game at 49 with 3:30 to go, but the Lady Bucks answered with a three by Addis and a basket by McCulloch to take a 54-49 lead with 2:59 to go and again, Coach Davis called a timeout.
Whatever Davis said in that timeout must have been magical as his Lady Devils proceeded to held Nelsonville scoreless for that final 2:59. Meanwhile, North Adams got two more free throws from Harper and then a basket inside by Madison Jenkins to draw within one. After the Lady Buckeyes missed the front end of the one and one with 1:01 left, Dinsmore took control and a driving runner in the lane with 50 seconds left gave the Lady Devils the lead for good at 55-54.
Nelsonville misfired on their next offensive trip and Dinsmore was fouled with 23.6 seconds to go, and hit one of two from the stripe. The Lady Bucks missed a three-point attempt and Dinsmore was fouled again with 7.2 seconds remaining and gain hit one of two to make it 57-54, and give Nelsonville one more chance. The final shot of the season for the Lady Bucks was a three-point try by Addis that didn’t even draw iron and a giant sigh of relief came from the North Adams side as their girls had escaped with an exhilarating three-point win.
In the victory, the Lady Devils were led by 16 points from Avery Harper, as she used a distinct size advantage inside to get five baskets and hit 6 0f 8 free throw attempts. Dinsmore scored 14, including the late game-winner, and Taylor Hesler turned in one of her best offensive performances of the season, garnering 9 points, including the clutch three-pointer early in the fourth quarter. Aided by a perfect 4 for 4 from the line, Lakyn Hupp added 8 points and Madison Jenkins played a solid second half and finished with 6.
“I knew Avery was tired but she sucked it up and gutted it out for us,” said Coach Davis. “Be tough and play through it and she was just a workhorse down there for us.”
Nelsonville-York was led by 19 points from Jessie Addis, 14 of those coming in the first half, when the Lady Devils had no answer for her penetrations to the basket. Sydney Fick added 10 for the Lady Buckeyes, with Camrin Dupler and Mary Kate McCulloch getting 7 each.
For the Lady Devils, now 18-5, the win means a trip to the Division III District Championship game, where they face the unenviable task of facing the #9 ranked and unbeaten Ironton Lady Tigers. That game will tip off on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m., back in Waverly. For Coach Davis, it will be his fourth trip to the district finals, where he is still looking for that elusive first district title.
“We scrimmaged Ironton earlier in the year,” added Davis. “We just have to slow the game down, get in a half court game, and see what happens. We’re both undefeated going into that game and that’s what we play for.”
“I have to thank our crowd tonight. They never sat down, when they got up, our kids got up. I was even ready to go out there and play myself. You can’t beat a North Adams crowd.”