Western Regional Final: Salisbury girls 26, East Davidson 24

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 7, 2009

By Mike London
GREENSBORO ó Salisbury sophomore Ayanna Holmes drove hard late in the first quarter, and East Davidson star Anna Freeman eagerly produced one of her four blocked shots.
She rejected the ball so emphatically it went skipping out of bounds until it hopped directly into a waste receptacle positioned near the East Davidson bench.
A chuckling official toweled the sloppy, soggy ball off. Not a great moment for the Hornets, but as it turned out, it was one of the few times Saturday East Davidson put the ball in the hole.
Salisbury relegated East Davidson’s perfect season to the trash can of history, beating the defending state champs in the 2A Western Regional final by the unlikely score of 26-24.
Salisbury, struggling with its CCC rival for the 13th time in the last four seasons, dumped East Davidson’s 36-game winning streak in front of a huge crowd at UNC Greensboro’s Fleming Gym.
“How do I feel right now ó is that a trick question?” beaming SHS coach Andrew Mitchell said. “Well, it just feels great to beat the No. 1 team that was undefeated and it feels great to be going to the state-championship game.”
Salisbury (28-3) punched a ticket for next Saturday’s game against Graham in Chapel Hill despite offense by quarters ó 7-7-3-9ó that looked like football.
The Hornets avenged three losses to the Golden Eagles this season by winning Round 4 ó the showdown that mattered most.
“When we’d lose, everyone would tell me, ‘Y’all will beat ’em when it counts,’ ” regional MVP Shi-Heria Shipp said. “And we did. We beat ’em when it counted.”
Shipp led the Hornets with eight points. All-region De’Rya Wylie battled for 12 boards. All-region Bubbles Phifer had eight boards and three steals.
“Amazing,” Wylie said. “That’s all you can say ó just amazing.”
Had you told Mitchell before the game the Hornets were going to shoot 16.7 percent from the field and turn it over 18 times, he would have turned the bus around, forfeited and watched some TV.
But Salisbury persevered in the lowest-scoring game in Western Regional history. No team had ever won a regional game with fewer than 33 points, but Salisbury, at times pulling the ball out and forcing East Davidson (31-1) to chase, cat-and-moused its way to a positive result.
Salisbury pounded the Golden Eagles on the boards ó 49-27 total; 22-9 on offensive rebounds. The Hornets also played such tenacious defense that a veteran East Davidson team that is normally cool and unflappable was knocked out of kilter.
East Davidson shot 9-for-43 from the field, couldn’t get on the foul line and just couldn’t score with Salisbury doubling Freeman, a great player who shot 2-for-14, whenever she got the ball in the post.
“Just the way it rides,” said East Davidson coach Terry Allmon, who will undergo surgery for prostate cancer on March 25 and was supported by emotional players wearing pink wristbands. “We were not at our best, and Salisbury was the better team today. Our girls battled to the very end as always, but the ball would not go in. Shots we normally make, we missed.”
The tone was set early.
After six minutes, it was 3-3. The Hornets missed 11 of their first 12 shots, but they were nothing-to-lose aggressors playing with the unburdened spirit of underdogs. Hauling the twin loads of a perfect season and a No. 1 ranking, anxiety was present in the tight body language and tense faces of the defending champs from the outset.
Salisbury made only five of its first 26 shots, but it led 12-6 after Shipp got a stickback with 2:38 left in the first half.
After Freeman hit a hook for her first points, Shipp dribbled away the last two minutes of the half. All-region pick Ashia Holmes passed to Shipp for a bucket off an inbounds play before the break, and the Hornets sprinted to their locker room with a 14-8 lead and momentum.
When Ashia Holmes found her twin sister, Ayanna, for a layup that hung tantalizingly on the rim and finally rolled in with 7:26 left in the third quarter, Salisbury had its biggest lead at 16-8. That was also Salisbury’s last field goal. The Hornets’ last 10 points would come at the foul line.
Alyssa Cutshaw’s long 3-pointer that beat the third quarter horn cut Salisbury’s lead to 17-15, but the Hornets refused to rush in the fourth quarter. They moved the ball, looked for layups and made sure East Davidson was one-and-done on each possession.
Wylie made two free throws following a huge offensive board for a a 21-18 lead with 1:25 left. Single free throws by Ashia Holmes and Phifer made it 23-18 before Cutshaw’s 3 with 9.9 seconds left made it a two-point game.
With 7.5 seconds left, Ashia Holmes marched to the foul line and calmly knocked down the two biggest free throws of her life for a 25-21 lead.
Elizabeth Merritt hit a 3-pointer for ED with 1.1 seconds left, and the Eagles were able to foul Ayanna Holmes with 0.2 seconds remaining.
She hit one free throw ó the Hornets were 9-for-13 in the fourth quarter ó for the final margin, and the Eagles had no time left for a miracle.
“A dogfight,” Mitchell said. “We never got down, never whined. Just stayed after it.”