By Mark Carpenter
It all came down to one game, The Southern Hills Athletic Conference eighth grade girls regular season championship on the line, 11-1 Eastern Brown visiting 11-1 North Adams last Wednesday night. The winner would be crowned SHAC champs and on this night, it would be the home team victorious as the Lady Devils gave head coach Tony Williams his first league title, coming from behind in the final quarter for a 24-20 triumph.
“It’s special any time you win a championship, but for the top two teams to play the last game of the regular season, winner take all is pretty special,” said Williams. “All 11 of our girls have been committed to the same goal since we started practice in October and they truly earned this victory. I’m just lucky enough to be their coach.”
Perhaps the butterflies affected the home team in the first quarter of this contest as they went scoreless for the first five minutes and missed all five of their free throw attempts. Eastern grabbed the early 4-0 lead on baskets by Allison Day and Whitney Broughton and the only North Adams score came from Avery Harper, thus a low-scoring first stanza ended with the visitors up 4-2.
“Early on, we were just going a little too fast and not running our offense like we should have and we weren’t able to get the shots we wanted,” said Coach Williams.
The Lady Devils found their mark in the second quarter, on both ends of the floor. On their first possession, the home team got a nice floater in the lane from Taylor Hesler that began an 8-0 quarter for North Adams. Baskets by Harper and Charlee Louden and a Hesler free throw with 2.9 seconds left sent an excited group of Lady Devils to the halftime break with a 10-4 advantage.
“We did a much better job of controlling the pace of the game in the second quarter,” added Coach Williams. “We told the girls in the locker room that Eastern would make a run at us. They are too good to be held down the whole game.”
Williams’ words proved to be prophetic as the Lady Warriors did make a run, one that gave them the lead at the end of the third quarter. Eastern got a Day put back bucket on their first possession but North Adams answered by beating the press for a Madee Shipley layup. The Lady Warriors responded to that with a 6-0 spurt that tied the game at 12 apiece with 2:10 left in the third.
A free throw from Lakyn Hupp gave the lead back to North Adams but the Lady Warriors finished the third period with a bang, getting a jumper at the buzzer from Maggie Fultz to grab back some momentum and a 14-13 lead with one quarter to play.
Eastern extended their lead to three on their first possession with a bucket by Haley Fannin, but they could not dent the scoring column again for another four minutes. The Lady Devils took advantage and stormed back to take a lead they would not give up. Taylor Hesler took charge, getting a steal and layup and then an offensive board and stick back to put her team up one at 17-16. Perhaps the biggest shot of the game came with just two minutes left when Hupp swished in a three from the left corner to give North Adams a four-point lead, 20-16.
Fultz made a nice steal and laid one in to pull Eastern back within two, but Hupp answered with a basket with 1:17 to go to push the home side’s lead back to four as the tension mounted on both sides. A Broughton hoop again sliced the lead to just two, but Hupp came up big again when she was fouled with 19 seconds left. Hupp nailed both free throws to seal the deal as the clock would down and Coach Williams and his troops could celebrate a 12-1 SHAC regular season title.
“Every girl contributed to this win,” said Williams. “Everyone made plays to help us win and I was proud of how we kept our composure throughout the game when we could have gotten frustrated. We kept battling to the very end and earned this win.”
For North Adams, it was the guard duo of Hupp and Hesler who came up big, leading the team with 8 points each, Hupp getting 7 of hers in a clutch fourth quarter.
“Laykn Hupp’s all-around game was incredible,” said Coach Williams. “I don’t know how she was able to get from one spot to another so quickly to make huge plays for us. Her three from the corner was a huge momentum swing for us and she hit two free throws when we needed them.”
“Taylor Hesler did a great job of attacking the gaps in their zone and against her man to be able to look to score or to find open people.”
Eastern was led by the solid play as usual of Allison Day, who led her team with 10 points.
“As it told them in the locker room after the game, enjoy this tonight and tomorrow but once we get back to practice, it’s a new season with the tournament beginning,” added Coach Williams. “We know that will not be easy and every game will be a battle because the SHAC has some very nice teams. We just have to play as hard as we can and smart as we can every time out and hope good things happen.”
The Lady Devils took the first step towards a tournament title on Saturday when they knocked off Lynchburg 35-13. That sets up a very intriguing match up tonight at West Union High School, weather permitting. North Adams will face a very tough Peebles team, who defeated Fayetteville on Saturday to earn the trip to the tourney semi-finals. That all-county war is set to tip off at 6:30 p.m.
Mark Carpenter can be reached at 937-544-2391 or on Twitter @adamscosports.
4 0 10 6 —20
2 8 3 11 —24
Eastern (20): Day 5 0-1 10, Broughton 2 0-0 4, Fultz 2 0-2 4, Fannin 1 0-0 2, 10 0-5 20.
N. Adams (24): Louden 1 0-0 2, Shipley 1 0-0 2, Hupp 2 3-8 8, Hesler 3 2-6 8, Harper 2 0-1 4, Team 9 5-15 24.
Three-Point Goals: N. Adams- Hupp 1