By Mark Carpenter
North Adams 8th grade girls basketball coach Tony Williams was a prophet. After his team’s Southern Hills Athletic Conference semi-final tournament win over Peebles, he told The Defender that his team’s free throw shooting would be a key in the championship game with Eastern. Never were truer words spoken by a coach as the Lady Devils used some clutch free throw shooting in overtime to make it an SHAC sweep for the season, defeating Eastern on the Lady Warriors’ home court last Saturday in the tourney’s title game by a final score of 31-27 in overtime.
“What an atmosphere this was today for a junior high tournament game,” said Williams. “Both schools were well represented and it was a great showcase for the future of girls basketball in our area.”
North Adams and Eastern had met twice in the regular season, each team winning once but the Lady Devils won the SHAC regular season title with a 12-1 league record, defeating Eastern 24-20 in the game that decided the regular season crown. ow it was the same two teams at Eastern playing for a tournament championship and it turned out to be a game that the packed house will long remember.
The Eastern faithful carried on the long basketball tradition of staying on their feet until their team scored, but unfortunately for them, that meant an entire quarter up as the Lady Warriors were blanked for the first six minutes. Not that North Adams was faring much better as the Lady Devils took over four minutes to get on the board, scoring first on a Taylor Hesler basket with 1:44 to go. On their next possession, the visitors got a basket inside from Avery Harper and made it three scores in succession when Lakyn Hupp drained a three-pointer to give North Adams a 7-0 lead after one quarter of action.
“I was pleased with our defense early,” said Coach Williams. “I thought we let the excitement get to us too much on the offensive end. We were finally able to settle down and get that 7-0 lead.”
As had happened in their previous meetings, the team that got down early charged back with a big run and that is exactly what the Lady Warriors did in the second period, scoring the quarter’s first 11 points to stun the Lady Devils and take an 11-7 lead. North Adams’ only basket of the second quarter came with one minute left from Hupp but Eastern answered with a basket from Mikayla Farris to go to the intermission with a 13-9 advantage.
“We talked before the game that it would be a game of runs and how we had to handle them,” added Williams. “Eastern made a nice run in the second quarter that put us back on our heels. We stressed the importance of running our offense and being ready to make our own run.”
After halftime, the Lady Devils began to climb back into the game, opening the third quarter with a Adison Wright free throw and a Hesler basket to close to within one.Eastern bounced right back with a three-pointer from Allison Day and a bucket by Maggie Fultz on back-to-back possessions to extend their lead back out to 18-12. Not to be outdone, Hupp found a cozy spot in the corner and drained her second trey of the game and a later Hesler basket left the Lady Devils down 20-17 at the end of three quarters.
“We did a much better job of attacking the open areas of their defense in the second half,” said Coach Williams. “Trailing most of the second half, I was still pleased with our mindset. The girls knew that if we did what we were supposed to do, good things would happen.”
A very exciting fourth quarter began with Eastern getting a basket from Day, followed by a pair of Brooklyn Stout free throws with 4:16 to play. The home team got another Farris score to lead again by five at 24-19 and at that point the Lady Devils got some inspiration from an odd source-a school bus. That school bus arrived at Eastern and was loaded with the JV and varsity Lady Devils on their way back from victories at Whiteoak and who now became a very boisterous cheering section for the trailing Lady Devils.
“You could tell a major spark was lit when the high school girls team ran into the gym,” said Williams. “They really pushed us to victory. It really showed how our program is a family.”
The miracle comeback for North Adams began with 1:19 to play when Harper scored on a put back. Eastern missed a lay up on their end and Harper was fouled, hitting one of two from the line to pull the Lady Devils within 24-22 with 45 seconds left. North Adams then put on the full court press and the Lady Warriors were whistled for an offensive foul as they tried to inbounds the ball. North Adams got the ball and from the high post, Harper found an open Madee Shipley under the basket, and Shipley hit the uncontested lay in to tie the game.
Eastern had a chance to win with 9 seconds left when Day was fouled but she missed the front end of the bonus and Hesler grabbed the rebound with 8.1 ticks remaining. The Lady Devils called a timeout but could not get off a winning shot and the two teams headed into overtime.
“The girls really showed their heart and desire in those last two minutes of regulation,” said Williams. “To be down 24-19 with two minutes left, they truly believed they were still going to win the game. Our defense really stepped up and we forced some turnovers and converted on the opportunities.”
In the extra period, the two teams entered into a free throw shooting contest and after a season of misery at the charity stripe, the Lady Devils stepped up in the clutch when it counted most. The overtime began with the two sides exchanging free throws, one for Eastern from Day and one for North Adams by Hesler. Hesler was fouled again with 38.7 seconds left and calmly sank both shots to give North Adams the lead back at 27-25. After an Eastern miss, Hesler was once again fouled and repeated her performance by hitting two more with 17. 9 seconds to go.
Again, the North Adams defense forced an Eastern miss and the Lady Warriors fouled Shipley with just 6 seconds left as the Lady Devils faithful began to sense a title in their grasp. Just to insure that, Shipley hit both free throws, making it six in a row down the stretch for North Adams. Eastern got a basket from Day in the final seconds but that was it as the celebration broke out on the floor for the Lady Devils and their fans, celebrating a 31-27 triumph in the championship game.
“Many know about our free throw struggles all season, but we made them when it mattered most,” said Coach Williams. “To be 4 for 11 in regulation and then to regain our composure to go 7 for 10 in overtime was a great testament to these girls’ will to win.”
In the title win, the Lady Devils were led in scoring by Taylor Hesler, who repeatedly beat the defense into the paint and finished with 11 points. Lakyn Hupp added 8, Avery Harper 5, and Madee Shipley 4 for the victors, who finished their season with an outstanding 15-1 record.
Eastern was led by Allison Day’s 14 points, with Maggie Fultz adding 7 and Mikayla Farris 6.
“This win highlighted what was an incredible season for these girls,” concluded Coach Williams. “There are a lot of great memories and moments that will stay with me for years to come. The girls have worked so hard since we started back in September with open gyms. They have truly earned and are well-deserving of the regular season and tournament championships.”
“I know all 11 of these girls will go on to have continued success because that is their nature, to be winners.”
Mark Carpenter can be reached at 937-544-2391 or on Twitter @adamscosports
7 2 8 7 7 —31
0 13 7 4 3 —27
N. Adams (31): Wright 0 1-3 1, Louden 0 0-2 0, Stout 0 2-2 2, Shipley 1 2-2 4, Hupp 3 0-2 8, Hesler 3 5-6 11,
Harper 2 1-4 5, Team 9 11-21 31.
Eastern (27): Day 6 1-3 14, Fultz 3 1-2 7, Farris 3 0-0 6, Team 12 2-5 27.
Three-Point Goals: N. Adams- Hupp 2
Eastern- Day 1