2A State Championship: Salisbury girls 56, Graham 41
By Mike London
CHAPEL HILL ó Bubbles Phifer found her jumper, De’Rya Wylie found her mojo, and Kia Rice found pure magic from some well hidden deep within herself.
With all that finding going on, Salisbury couldn’t lose in the Dean Smith Center Saturday afternoon. The Hornet girls beat Graham 56-41 for the 2A state championship.
Momentum changed twice. Salisbury led early before Graham (29-4) took over behind shooter Kiki Allen. The Hornets weathered disaster, fought back with Bubbles, boards and bruising defense and won going away.
“Some didn’t think we could do this, but I had the feeling in my heart that we would bring home this championship,” said Rice, a senior guard. “We deserved it.”
Coach Andrew Mitchell, a man of faith who was job-hunting two years ago, found a home at SHS. His firm hand guided the Hornets (29-3) to their second championship.
They also won in 2004.
Mitchell had his five seniors ó Rice, Wylie, Shi-Heria Shipp, Nene Phifer and Jasmine Clinding ó on the floor together late in the game, a gesture they’ll never forget.
“All five of them ó that was something I really wanted to make happen,” Mitchell said. “Win, lose or draw.”
Bubbles Phifer earned the MVP award for her suffocating second-half defense on Allen as much as her team-high 15 points. Most Outstanding Player Wylie had 10 points and 11 boards, nine on the offensive end. Shipp contributed seven rebounds and four assists. Soph Ashia Holmes blocked three shots.
Then there was Rice, who jumped off the bench and played 17 minutes because Bubbles Phifer got two quick fouls and Shipp battled whistles most of the day. Rice never turned it over, and she hit her first four shots, a memorable effort for a girl who had scored a total of two points in Salisbury’s last three games.
“Kia brought inspiration,” Mitchell said. “She really wanted to make a difference today and we gave her some tough defensive tasks.”
The teams felt each other out in the first quarter.
Then Salisbury made five straight shots to open the second quarter, including two by Rice. Her banker five minutes before halftime stretched Salisbury’s lead to 19-7, but that’s when the Hornets cooled and Allen went out of her mind.
“Salisbury was pressuring us fullcourt and losing track of Allen a lot,” Graham coach Kyle Ward said.
Allen hit four 3s and scored 15 of her 17 points in the second quarter. The last nine points of the half were on her 3s. Allen’s contested bomb beat the horn and gave the Red Devils a 25-22 halftime lead.
In the locker room, Mitchell asked someone to defend Allen and challenged Wylie to get tougher inside.
“We had to stop Allen if we wanted to win,” Mitchell said. “Bubbles almost knocked me down to say, ‘Hey, I got her.’
‘I just told De’Rya she was playing timid and had gotten mad at herself for missing a few easy shots. I told her if she wasn’t going to play with any confidence, I had a seat for her right next to me. You can get on Rya a little bit. It motivates her. It pushes her buttons. Then she goes out there and starts beating and banging, and I knew we were OK.”
When Logan Apple hit a 3-pointer to open the second half, Graham’s run was 21-3, and the Hornets trailed 28-22.
But Phifer had Allen smothered, and the turning point came with 6:51 left in the third quarter. Wylie battled on the glass, drew the fourth foul on Graham’s 5-foot-11 Courdne Miles and hit two free throws.
After Bubbles Phifer knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner and Shipp made a free throw it was 28-28, and the Hornets were charging. With Miles sitting, they owned the glass.
“Miles is our inside presence,” Ward said. “When she went out, it was just a huge blow because the biggest thing Salisbury does is rebound.”
The Hornets took the lead for good when Wylie passed to a cutting Rice for a layup and a 34-33 lead. Just seconds later, however, with 1:25 to go in the third, Shipp picked up her fourth foul and had to sit.
That put the offensive load on Bubbles Phifer, and the junior responded. She took a pass from Rice and banked in a tough shot for the 999th and 1,000th points of her career. Moments later, Phifer connected on another jumper, and the Hornets led 38-33 at the end of the quarter.
“I was still thinking mostly about sticking with Allen on defense,” Phifer said. “My shooting had been kinda shaky in the regional, but after I got the 1,000, everything seemed to fall right into place.”
When Phifer stroked a 3 to open the fourth the Hornets were up eight and headed for home. Holmes drew the fifth foul on Miles, and Ward removed his standout senior point guard Beth Miller with just under five minutes left.
By then, it was over, and an overjoyed Rice was flying around, smiling ear to ear.
As a freshman, she missed a key layup in an overtime loss to Farmville Central in the 2006 championship game.
But she’s always been one of those people more worried about the team than herself.
“Can’t change the past,” she said. “I moved on from that.”
Saturday, Bubbles and Wylie earned their awards, but Rice was equally wonderful. She’ll be remembered now not as the nervous freshman who missed the layup, but as the smart senior who made all the difference.
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