Western 2A Regionals: Salisbury girls 61, Bandys 44

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 4, 2011

By David Shaw
GREENSBORO — The Salisbury girls basketball team has a message for all the skeptics waiting for it to implode: it’s not going to happen.
At least, it wasn’t going to happen in Thursday night’s regional semifinal against Bandys.
“We’re on a mission,” coach Chris McNeil said at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center, moments after the Hornets carved out a 61-44 victory. “We always want to win. When you lose it leaves a bad taste. These ladies, they well understand that someone has to win and someone has to lose. Tonight they buckled down and did not want to lose.”
Salisbury (25-1) played hermetically sealed defense to stifle Bandys (27-4), a team that averaged 73 points-per-game and shot 49.9 percent from the field this season. Against SHS, the Trojans were held to a season-low point total and converted only 10 of 41 field goal attempts (24.4 percent). Most glaring was a 1-for-13 showing from three-point range.
Losing coach Beth Queen was asked if shooting was the game’s primary storyline.
“I thought it was,” she answered without hesitation. “What were we, 15 percent in the second half? That’s not gonna do it against Salisbury.”
The Hornets stand two victories shy of a third consecutive state championship. They’ll meet Newton-Conover in Saturday’s 4 p.m. regional final at the SEC.
“I think we’re going all the way,” freshman Brielle Blaire said after scoring a season-high 21 points for Salisbury. “We can’t stop now. We’re too close.”
Before the Hornets go all- Rex Ryan on us, keep in mind they did have to use a measure of restraint in the first half. McNeil insisted Salisbury take a patient, almost deliberate approach in the first half.
“Normally on the offensive end we would make two passes and try to force the ball in to our post players,” he explained. “But tonight we made our post players a little more active, a little more mobile. We made five or six passes and told our guards to patient and try to find a seam.”
The slower pace must have felt like an itchy wool sweater to the uptempo Hornets, who nonetheless played a careful first half and led 25-23 at the break.
“That helped us,” senior Olivia Rankin said after contributing 10 points and 10 rebounds. “If it had been a faster-paced game we would have been out of gas by the third or fourth quarter. “
Bandys looked equally uncomfortable — and senior center Tara Potter tried to put a finger on it.
“Our game is a lot of rhythm,” she said. “But they had us totally out-of-sync. I don’t really know why. It just seemed like every time we made a mistake they’d capitalize.”
It was Blaire who single-handedly cracked the game open in the third period. The six-foot forward hit five of her seven shots and scored 11 points in the quarter.
“That freshman,” Queen said. “She’s going to be a good one.”
Meanwhile, the SHS defense forced Bandys to misfire on 11 of 13 attempts as the lead mushroomed to 39-27. And when Rankin grabbed a fourth-quarter rebound and hit a putback — then got hacked and hit a free throw — Salisbury had its widest margin, 53-34.
“Our biggest issue was not boxing out,” Queen said. “In the first half they had seven offensive boards and scored on five of them. Some of it was their height, some their athleticism. They were quicker and taller. That’s not a good combination for my team.”
It hasn’t been for 54 of the last 55 Salisbury opponents.

NOTES: Blaire finished 9-for-15 from the floor. Ashia Holmes (13 points) and Jessica Heilig (10) gave SHS four scorers in double figures. … Bandys junior sniper Jesse Storyshot 2-for-13 from the field and finished with six points, well below her 17.1 average. … Newton-Conover (25-3) advanced with a 58-37 win over Thomasville.
BANDYS (44)— M.Story 14, Potter 8, J.Story 6, Sigmon 6, Queen 6, Punch 4.
SALISBURY (61) — Blaire 21, As.Holmes 13, Rankin 10, Heilig 10, Richardson 4, Miller 2, Allison 1, Ay.Holmes, Thompson, Hicks, Feamster.
Bandys 11 12 4 17 — 44
Salisbury 15 10 14 22 — 61