McDowell’s clutch shooting plus defense equals third consecutive district championship game –
Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
A phrase often heard is that “sports imitates life.” Many people use the example that people need to have a short memory, such as putting the past behind them and living for the day. That holds true in the sports world as it is usually a good idea for teams and players to have short memories, forgetting what’s already done and thinking about the competition at hand. That turned out to be a really good idea last Saturday afternoon for Coach Rob Davis and his North Adams Lady Devils as they took the court at Waverly High School in a Division III district semi-final game.
Across the floor from the Lady Devils were the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates, losers of just two regular season games and owners of a convincing 50-26 win over North Adams just two weeks earlier. For the Lady Devils, it was the opportunity to put that past loss behind them and focus on earning a third consecutive trip to the district championship game.
The Saturday afternoon district semi turned out to be perhaps the most exciting girls game of the season in the area, and the Lady Devils were able to exorcise the Wheelersburg demon, though it was an uphill struggle from the beginning. After shooting poorly, turning the ball over 14 times, and allowing seven offensive rebounds in the first half, the Lady Devils found themselves down by 10 at halftime, but then turned the tables completely on the Lady Pirates, holding Wheelersburg to just nine second half points and just two field goals as they rallied from behind with some clutch shooting from sophomore Grace McDowell to pull off a 39-37 upset and advance to the district championship game on March 5.
“These are the kinds of games you want to play in,” said Coach Davis in his post game radio chat. “That’s what it is all bout to come and play in this kind of environment in a close ball game and luckily we got it to go our way. I thought we just controlled the boards in the second half and controlled the tempo and we made some big shots. They packed it in on us and we kicked it out and it feels great when you get the kick out and they drain it, the fans and kids feed off of that.”
“I haven’t seen the girls this happy for awhile and I hope they get the chance to get happy again on Friday night.”
The strategy as the game began was a little different for the Lady Devils as they pulled off of their usual full court pressure to play the half court game with Wheelersburg, while it was the Lady Pirates who applied the pressure that bothered North Adams, though the Lady Devils got baskets on their first two possessions from McDowell and Avery Harper to lead 4-0. Wheelersburg answered with a 6-0 run, before three-pointer by Madee Shipley put North Adams back in front at 7-6.
The Lady Devils’ offense then went in the tank for the final four minutes of the first quarter, mustering only a Madison Jenkins free throw while the Lady Pirates racked up 10 including a pair of three-pointers from Brittany Swim to take a 16-8 lead after eight minutes of action.
Down by eight, the Lady Devils picked up the defensive pressure as the second period began, getting a steal and score from McDowell and a basket by Harper to slice the Wheelersburg lead in half. The Lady Pirates boosted the lead back to eight on back to back scores from Mallory Bergan and then three-pointers from Ellie Ruby and Abbie Kallner capped a 10-2 run and resulted in a 26-14 advantage for the Lady Pirates.
A stick back by Harper and another bucket by McDowell kept the Lady Devils within striking distance but a score by Bergan in the final seconds sent Wheelersburg to the locker room with a double digit lead at 28-18.
As the second half began, the Lady Pirates turned the ball over on their first three possessions but all that North Adams could do was get a McDowell free throw as a bucket by Ruby pushed the Wheelersburg lead to 30-19, but that was it for awhile as the Lady Pirates would not score again for nearly five minutes. Meanwhile, a 7-0 run that included a jumper by Lakyn Hupp, a put back by Harper, and a McDowell trey brought the North Adams faithful to their feet and their team within four at 30-26.
After their five-minute drought, the Lady Pirates got the final three points of the third quarter to lead 33-26, but there was a sense in the gym that the momentum was turning and that the Lady Devils were about to make a run.
Wheelersburg got the first possession of the final quarter, and held the ball for a minute and twenty seven seconds, before eventually turning it over, and that stretch seemed to begin to take the wind out of the Lady Pirates’ sails. McDowell hit another three at the 6:10 mark and later baskets by Harper and Jenkins, plus two Hupp free throws and the Lady Devils had their first lead since the first quarter at 35-34.
Two free throws by Kallner put Wheelersburg back in front with 2:22 to play, but again McDowell performed some long distance magic, draining another three-pointer to give North Adams a 38-36 lead. Wheelersburg got one of two from the line from Kallner and then had a shot to take the lead after a Lady Deils’ turnover, but missed and North Adams’ Taylor Hesler was fouled with 37.1 seconds to play. Hesler, whose ball handling skills had been key all afternoon in handling the Wheelersburg pressure, missed the front end of the bonus, giving the Lady Pirates another shot but a wild shot by Makayla Akers missed badly.
The Lady Devils rebounded and Jenkins was fouled with 19 seconds to play, and hit one of two free throws to give her team a two-point lead. Driving to the basket, Ruby was fouled with 11.9 ticks left on the clock, but missed both shots from the stripe. The Lady Devils grabbed the rebound and Hupp was fouled, but missed the front end of the bonus, giving Wheelersburg one last chance. An off-balance shot by Ruby wasn’t even close and the horn sounded with the Lady Devils and their fans celebrating a thrilling 39-37 come-from-behind victory and a date with the Alexander Lady Spartans on Friday, March 3, back at Waverly High School.
For the Lady Devils, it will be their third consecutive trip to the district championship game and they will be looking to break the ice as they have lost the past two season, to Waterford in 2015 and to Ironton last season.
In the win over Wheelersburg, sophomore Grace McDowell picked a good time to turn in one of her beat games of the season, as she tallied 18 points, 10 of those in the second half comeback, including three bombs from beyond the arc. Avery Harper also reached double figures with 10 points and made that a double double performance by hauling down 12 rebounds. The North Adams defense turned in an amazing second half effort, holding the Lady Pirates to only nine points, and not a single field goal in the fourth quarter.
“It feels amazing and I am so happy we won,” said McDowell after the game. “If I am hot, I just keep firing it up and today they went in.”
Wheelersburg was led in the loss by 10 points from Abbie Kallner, with Mallory Bergan adding 7 and Brittany Swim 6. The Lady Pirates can look a their work from the charity stripe as a factor in their defeat, as they only hit 8 of 20 attempts.
The district championship game is set for an 8:15 p.m. tip off on Friday in Waverly, and the first game of the evening will feature the Eastern Lady Warriors battling Southeastern, giving the Southern Hills Athletic Conference the chance for two district titles in one night.
8 10 8 13 –39
16 12 5 4 -37
N. Adams (39): Hesler 0 0-1 0, Hupp 1 2-5 4, Shipley 1 0-0 3, McDowell 7 1-2 18, Jenkins 1 2-4 4, Harper 5 0-0 10, Team 15 5-12 39.
Wheelersburg (37): Ruby 2 0-2 5, Kallner 3 3-4 10, Coleman 0 2-2 2, Swim 2 0-0 6, Bergan 3 1-5 7, Emmett 1 0-1 2, Akers 1 2-6 5, Team 12 8-20 37.
N. Adams (4): McDowell 3, Shipley 1
Wheelersburg (5): Ruby 1, Kallner 1, Swim 2, Akers 1