OLIN — No drawings out of a hat will be required to settle the fierce NPC girls race.
North Iredell beat Carson 42-41 on Thursday’s Senior Night in the Valentine-red Olin gym for an outright league title.
Avenging an equally hard-fought 47-43 loss to the Cougars in China Grove, North Iredell won the league outright with an 11-1 record.
West Rowan finished 10-2 on Wednesday. Carson settled for 9-3 and third place.
A Carson win would’ve created a three-way tie and a draw, so the Cougars had unlikely supporters in rival West Rowan, but they fell just short. Mariah Johnson’s free throw with 2.6 seconds left won it for North Iredell.
“We controlled our own destiny, and I really felt like all the pressure was on Carson,” North Iredell coach Bradley Gabriel said.
Neither team led by more than five points. Carson (18-6) led the Raiders (15-6) by five at halftime when NI was really reeling.
The remarkable aspect of North Iredell’s victory was that the Raiders did it with senior star Brooke Redmond out with an injury.
The difference-makers were North Iredell’s junior guards Johnson and Stacey Lunsford. They were different players than they were in the game in China Grove. The emotion of Senior Night and wanting to win for the injured Redmond had a lot to do with that.
“Our girls have the hearts of champions, and they showed it,” Gabriel said.
Kelly Dulkoski led the Cougars with 17 points. She had seven early, but Carson also missed countless pointblank opportunities and settled for a 9-9 tie after a quarter.
With North Iredell double-teaming Dulkoski on every screen, Katherine Barringer (13 points) stepped forward. She hit three straight shots, and Carson took a 23-18 halftime lead.
North Iredell used a triangle-and-two defense in the second half, and the game swung when Brittani Cartner drilled two third-quarter 3s before Carson could gets its defense set.
“We came out very relaxed and nonchalant with the ball in the third quarter,” Carson coach Brooke Misenheimer said. “We turned it over, they scored in transition, and momentum turned right there.”
With the Cougars down five in the fourth quarter, Dulkoski nailed a 3-pointer, and when Allison Blackwell converted a one-and-one with two minutes left, it was 41-41.
Then North Iredell held the ball and Carson couldn’t force a turnover.
After a timeout with six seconds left, Johnson got the ball in her hands, started toward the hoop and stopped abruptly. Dulkoski bumped into her from behind with 2.6 seconds left.
Johnson made her first free throw for the lead. She missed her second, and the Cougars got the board with 1.9 seconds left.
Dulkoski got a hurried look at a deep 3-pointer, but when it missed, the Raiders celebrated.
“There were a whole lot of little things we could’ve done better,” Barringer summed up. “We wanted a different ending to the regular season, and we’re all kind of heartbroken.”
CARSON (41) — Dulkoski 17, Barringer 13, Blackwell 4, Allen 4, Cole 3, Parks.
NORTH IREDELL (42) — Johnson 14, Cartner 11, Lunsford 9, Fox 4, Blevins 2, Moore 2, Brown.
Carson 9 14 9 9 — 41
N. Iredell 9 9 17 7 — 42
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