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Gallagher column: Brielle, Salisbury girls march on

SALISBURY — The winner and still heavyweight champion of Rowan County:
The Salisbury girls.
Did you ever doubt it? Sure you did.
“Ninety-five percent of the people in here came to see Salisbury lose,” smiled Hornets athletic director Joe Pinyan before tipoff of the Moir Christmas Classic girls championship game.
If there was ever a time to end Salisbury’s massive streak of domination — eight straight Moir titles coming in — it was this year. The three-time defending state champion was not (gasp) the No. 1 seed and came into the event with (gasp again) two losses.
Carson, meanwhile, had the No. 1 seed with an unblemished 12-0 record.
But in the end, it was a familiar scene for the Hornets. They held on 71-67 and lined up for all-tournament selections.
Brielle Blaire as MVP? Well, of course.
Doreen Richardson was also named and that pleased coach Chris McNeil.
“She gave our pregame speech,” McNeil said. “She did not want the streak to end in her senior year.”

Oh yeah, the streak. You have to go back to 2002 and Mike White’s North Rowan Cavaliers, led by Sophilia Hipps, to find a team besides the Hornets to claim a crown. And the Cavs beat Davie, not Salisbury.
But that all changed when Shayla Fields began her march to the title of “Greatest Basketball Player ever in Rowan County.” She helped Salisbury to two straight, then turned it over to Ashley Watkins. Then, Shi-Heria Shipp won three straight MVPs. Then, a girl named Bubbles, followed by Ayanna Holmes last season.
This year, it’s Brielle’s turn.
And she was ready. Forget about her 33 points and 10 rebounds. She proved what a leader she was with 5:32 left and her team up just 53-51.
McNeil called a timeout and while everyone else sat on the bench and waited, McNeil guided Blaire out on the court and whispered in her ear.
“I told her, ‘Believe. Saddle the team on your back,’ ” McNeil said.
Blaire came out of the timeout and dished for a layup. She then shot over three Cougars for a basket. 57-51. Then little sister Ashley made a block, a steal and hit a layup. Then a Brielle layup. Then Ashley.
When Carson’s Kelly Dulkoski swished a 3 in the final seconds, it was too late.
Salisbury had another title.

Down the hall, Carson coach Brooke Misenheimer looked at the stat sheet and talked to her assistants about missed opportunities. Especially the 6-for-14 effort at the free-throw line. At one time, the Cougars were 1-for-7.
For a while, it looked like Carson might actually replace Salisbury as Moir champ. On the opening tip, they pulled an old Salisbury trick, quickly scoring off the jump ball after three seconds had elapsed.
Freshman Alex Allen knocked down shots. Dulkoski showed why she is thought of as one of the best players in the county with her passing, shooting and directing. The 5-6 Phillips was sliding in between Hornets for a career high 18 points. Allison Blackwell was a rebounding machine. She had 10. Carson led 34-28 at halftime, shooting 56 percent from the field.
One minute into the second half, however, Salisbury was tied and it was tight until McNeil’s timeout. Salisbury led by 11 with 1:38 left.
“Salisbury High School has been blessed with a lot of talent,” McNeil said.
And there’s no end in sight.
But don’t count out Carson after only one loss. The Cougars can still win the NPC. Of course, that was little consolation on this night.
“They’re upset and disappointed,” Misenheimer said of her talented Cougars. “One of our goals was to win this tournament.”
It will be a goal again next year, too, when Dulkoski, Blackwell, Phillips and Allen all return.
But so will the girl named Brielle who, for the record, is only a sophomore.
Can you say 10 straight Moir titles?
Can you say 11?

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