Moir Christmas Classic: East Rowan girls 41, South Rowan 37
By Bret Strelow
Ashley Collins sprinted toward East Rowan’s bench and lifted acting coach Danielle Porter off the ground with a bear hug soon after the final buzzer sounded.
There was no shortage of contact in a physical contest between NPC rivals, and East’s girls advanced to the Sam Moir Christmas Classic final with an emotional 41-37 victory against South Rowan on Monday.
East head coach Karen Garmon missed the game to attend a funeral, and the Mustangs prevailed with Porter directing a varsity team for the first time.
“A lot was going through my mind,” Collins said. “We’re going to the championship, and South Rowan is always a good team I get pumped up against. Playing against them, it always feels good.
“(Porter) did good, but it was different to look over there and see her. She’s one of our greatest fans, and she always has confidence that we can finish.”
Collins led third-seeded East, which will face Salisbury tonight at 6:30 p.m., with 12 points and eight rebounds. Fellow senior Katelynne Poole added 11 points.
Nikki Graham hit a trio of first-quarter 3-pointers and paced second-seeded South (7-4) with 16 points. Taylor May grabbed 10 rebounds and scored two points on 1-for-10 shooting.
East center Olivia Rankin’s basket off a feed from Mackenzie Holshouser with one minute left in the third quarter broke the final tie, and the Mustangs (7-3) held a six-point advantage with 2:40 left. The Raiders twice made 3-pointers to pull within one.
“I felt like there were opportunities there, and we just didn’t take advantage of them,” South coach Jim Brooks said. “We put them on the free-throw line and they miss, then we’d come down and turn it over. That’s not exactly what we were looking for.”
Graham’s fourth 3-pointer, a high-arching shot from the right corner with 1:28 remaining, cut East’s lead to 35-34. Poole made one free throw at the other end, and Graham’s game-tying attempt over Rankin from the right baseline brushed the side of the backboard.
Collins drilled two free throws with 47.5 seconds left to give the Mustangs a 38-34 edge, and South’s Molly Garrett hit a 3-pointer nine seconds later.
Poole answered with one free throw for East, and teammate Alaina Vanderford recorded a critical steal with 24 seconds left. Poole made two more free throws to ice the game.
“We held our composure and did the small details needed down the stretch,” Porter said. “The big thing was controlling the clock. We didn’t want to give them any easy baskets. That was our main goal at the end.”
Collins and Poole shot a combined 5-for-22 from the field but made amends with their crucial free throws in the final six minutes.
The Mustangs spread the floor with a 31-27 lead and went 10-for-18 from the line the rest of the way. Poole was 6-for-9, and Collins made all four of her attempts.
“Free throws are free,” Collins said, “so when I step up to the free-throw line, I’m always very confident.”
EAST ROWAN (41) ó Collins 12, Poole 11, Rankin 7, Holshouser 5, File 4, Vanderford 2, Sabo.SOUTH ROWAN (37) ó Graham 16, Morrow 8, Garrett 5, K.Haywood 4, May 2, Sides 2, Goins.
East Rowan 10 9 10 12 ó 41
South Rowan 11 6 10 10 ó 37