2A State Championship: Salisbury girls 76, East Bladen 44: Hornets win third straight title
By Ronnie Gallagher
CHAPEL HILL — Ayanna Holmes stole the ball near midcourt and fed Brielle Blaire for an easy layup, forcing East Bladen to call a timeout.
The Salisbury crowd rose and cheered. Salisbury’s lead was 66-41 with 3:40 left and all there was left to do was celebrate the Hornets’ third straight 2A state championship.
The final in the Dean E. Smith Center was 76-44 — and it wasn’t that close.
From the first Salisbury basket — a Blaire layup eight seconds into the game — Salisbury completely buried a 30-2 team. It becomes the first 2A girls team in history to win three straight titles.
“It’s just a special day for those young ladies,” said first-year coach Chris McNeil. “They wanted to leave a legacy in Rowan County. This afternoon, they accomplished that.”
East Bladen was left to do nothing but praise the Hornets after losing to them for the second straight year. The Eagles have been to four of the past five state title games and have lost all four.
“We just couldn’t play with them,” East Bladen coach Patty Evers said. “We just couldn’t.”
That late Ayanna Holmes to Blaire layup was significant. It typified the day.
Ayanna and twin Ashia combined for 13 steals and 15 assists. Talk about a twin killing.
They were so effective, it was easy for the inside threesome of Blaire, Jessica Heilig and Olivia Rankin to shoot just about everything from close range. Those three combined for a whopping 50 points on 22 of 37 shooting.
Blaire, a 6-foot-3, 15-year-old freshman, was named the game’s MVP, but it could’ve been any of the five starters.
“They have four Division I players and a freshman wins MVP,” signed Evers. “They’re better than us.”
Salisbury shot 56 percent from the field and outscored East Bladen 58-14 in the paint. It led 14-0 on fast-break points.
And as hard as it might be to imagine, Salisbury’s defense was even better. It shackled Courtney Melvin, a 6-2 East Carolina signee averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds into a frustrating 10-point day. Amazingly, she shot only seven times, just once after halftime. She hit only three baskets and was never a factor.
“They had two on me everywhere I went,” Melvin shrugged afterward. “We just didn’t go out and play hard. I didn’t play hard as well.”
Evers added her star wasn’t guarded by ordinary players.
“She was surrounded by long, physical, big girls,” Evers noted.
McNeil’s plan worked perfectly.
“We kept two bodies on her all night,” he said. “We wanted somebody else to beat us.”
The turning point of the game came at the end of the first half. Petite Melissa Macon pumped in three 3s and Salisbury’s once-large lead was suddenly down to 33-26 with 1:44 left.
“In a timeout in the second quarter, I told them if we could keep it under 10 we had a chance,” Evers said.
Heilig hit two quick jumpers and after a steal by Ayanna Holmes, Ashia sank a runner for a 39-26 halftime advantage.
“The key was keeping our heads up at all times and making steals,” Ayanna said.
The start of the second half was the same as the first. Ashia made one of the team’s 18 steals on the first possession and fed Heilig, who powered over Melvin. She hit two free throws and a beautiful spin move and Salisbury led 53-32 after three.
Heilig was asked when she knew she could take East Bladen’s big girl.
“After I did it the first time,” Heilig said. “This was my last game. I was going out with a bang.”
The Hornets certainly did that. After losing the opener to 4A Butler, they reeled off 27 straight victories and walked out of the Smith Center as one of the greatest teams in North Carolina history.
“I’m really going to miss them,” McNeil said.
Miss them, yes.
NOTES: Ayanna Holmes had 11 assists. … Salisbury got a lift from 6-2 Eboni Feamster, who scored two points, grabbed two rebounds and blocked two shots in 10 minutes. … Salisbury did not try a 3-pointer. It didn’t have to. … The Hornets held East Bladen to 16 of 44 shooting.
SALISBURY (76)— Blaire 20, Heilig 16, Rankin 14, Ash. Holmes 10, Ay. Holmes 8, Miller 4, Feamster 2, Allison 2, Thompson, Hicks.
EAST BLADEN (44) — Kemp 12, Melvin 10, Macon 9, Montgomery 7, Hatcher 6.
Salisbury 21 18 14 23 — 76
E. Bladen 10 16 6 12 — 44
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