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Western Regional 2A Final: Salisbury girls 49, Newton-Conover 35

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
GREENSBORO — Salisbury’s girls didn’t make a 3-pointer and ran into horrendous foul trouble, but the machine rolls on.
Winners of 227 of their last 244 outings and making their ninth straight Western Regional appearance, the Hornets (26-1) may be the state’s No. 1 basketball dynasty. The torch has been passed over the years from Shayla Fields to Ashley Watkins to Shi-Heria Shipp to Bubbles Phifer to the twins, Ashia and Ayanna Holmes, and the senior sisters weren’t going to let the flame flicker on their watch. They combined for 10 steals on Saturday. Ashia, the regional MVP, made tough shots at important times.
The Hornets used clawing defense and fierce offensive rebounding to subdue Newton-Conover 49-35 at the Greensboro Coliseum and will play for their third straight 2A state title against East Bladen at noon on March 12 in Chapel Hill.
“Salisbury will win it again,” Newton-Conover coach Jonathan Tharpe said quietly. “I mean this in a nice way, but those girls are monsters. They’d win 1A, 2A, 3A or 4A. They are big, they are powerful, you can’t move them and they have such long wingspans. I don’t think I can find four boys in our school as big as those girls.”
Salisbury usually played 6-footers Brielle Blaire (11 points), Olivia Rankin and Jessica Heilig (12 points, nine boards), and backup posts Isis Miller and Eboni Feamster, the tallest of all the Hornets, contributed some solid minutes.
Newton-Conover (25-4) didn’t score the first six minutes of the game and made just two field goals in the first half.
“Everywhere we turned there was a girl that had lots of inches on us,” N-C’s Shynese Whitener said. “It was hard.”
Heilig played big with both Rankin and Blaire fighting foul trouble, and Salisbury took a a 25-12 lead at the break when a flying Ashia Holmes banked in a 15-foot floater that beat the horn.
SHS coach Chris McNeil’s halftime chat was brief — maybe 30 seconds.
“I don’t know if Coach was happy, but there really wasn’t much to talk about,” Ashia Holmes said. “Our goals were set, and we were doing what we were supposed to do. We were not letting them score.”
Newton-Conover played with passion to begin the second half and made a mini-run. The dangerous point for the Hornets came after Rankin headed to the bench with her fourth foul midway through the third quarter, and N-C crept within seven on a 3-pointer by Quazzy Tipps.
“We have enough good leadership that we were able to settle down in the midst of that adversity,” McNeil said. “Now we’re going to Chapel Hill.”
With the lead at 28-21, Blaire, a freshman, hit the shot of the game, an acrobatic turnaround that stopped N-C’s surge. Five seconds later, Ashia Holmes was on the deck scrapping for a steal, and Ayanna Holmes led a fastbreak that resulted in a free throw by Heilig.
After SHS got a stop, Heilig was fouled on a spin move and made another free throw.
Then the Hornets got six straight backbreaking points on offensive rebounds— Heilig and Miller stuck airballs back in before Blaire followed her own miss. That made it 38-21, with the third quarter winding down, and it was over.
“We were just boxing out and keeping the ball high like we’re supposed to do,” Heilig said.
Newton-Conover turned it over 20 times, finished with 7-for-33 field-goal shooting and was beaten on the boards 38-28. Salisbury had 18 offensive boards, six by Heilig.
“We were quicker than Salisbury,” N-C’s Tiana Littlejohn said. “But we got overpowered.”
Tharpe stressed that the Hornets have more than size.
“That’s a great team, and it’s not like they just show up at the gym and play,” Tharpe said. “They obviously work hard at it and are very well-coached.”
Can anyone beat the Hornets, Tharpe was asked.
“It’s not about X’s and O’s,” he said. “To beat them, you’d have to be able to match up with all those long bodies, and I don’t think anyone can.”
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NOTES: Blaire, Rankin, Newton-Conover’s Whitener and Kadesha Gibbs and Thomasville’s Christina Carter joined Ashia Holmes on the all-regional team. Heilig (6-for-9 on free throws, one turnover in 27 minutes) should’ve made it.
NEWTON-CONOVER (35)— Whitener 11, Tipps 9, Littlejohn 9, Gibbs 6, Pitts, Alston.
SALISBURY (49) — Heilig 12, As. Holmes 11, Blaire 11, Ay. Holmes 5, Rankin 4, Allison 2, Miller 2, Richardson 2, Hicks, Feamster, Thompson.
N-Conover 3 9 9 14 — 35
Salisbury 10 15 13 11 — 49

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