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CHARLOTTE — Another tough start finally got Carson the ending it was afraid of in Friday’s 3A sectional final.
However, it didn’t dampen the moods of seniors Kelly Dulkoski and Allison Blackwell, who finished their prep careers after a 48-32 loss to Charlotte Harding. The loss ended a year that saw both pass 1,000 career points and leading Carson to its deepest playoff run yet.
“It was a tough offensive night,” Dulkoski said. “We all gave a good effort and our defense played well.”
Nothing fell for the Cougars so they did. Aside from a late push that saw several chances to cut the deficit to 10, the Rams weren’t made uncomfortable on their home court as they advanced to their second-straight regional.
A Dulkoski 3-pointer and jumpers from Katherine Barringer and Alex Allen was the only offense of the first quarter as points were hard to come by all night. Carson (21-8) overcame a rough first-half against West Rowan and J.M. Robinson earlier in the week, but couldn’t afford that type of sluggishness against the defending state champion Rams.
“We didn’t have a good first half and that’s kind of been the name of our game the past couple of weeks,” Carson coach Brooke Misenheimer said. “I feel like if you hold Harding to 48 points you should have a chance to win.”
Harding (21-4) got a complete game from guard Abrea Harris (15 points, 12 rebounds, four steals) as well as 13 points from Ralisha Currence. There were four early 3’s as Harding led 19-7 after a quarter.
“They’re our heart and soul,” Harding coach Anthony Jones said. “It was a great game and we learned a lot from Carson tonight.”
Harding advances to take on top seed Ledford next week.
Dulkoski and Blackwell each scored 11 in their final game as the top two scorers in Carson’s short history.
Carson atypically came out in a 2-3 zone and watched Harding jump out to a big lead by converting several good looks at the basket. They went to man-to-man later in the first quarter but had problems keeping possession.
“They surprised us as far as their ability to shoot the ball,” Misenheimer said. “But they’re an athletic team and get in the passing lanes. They score in transition and make you pay for their mistakes.”
The second quarter saw Carson struggle again, only notching five points, trailing 30-12 at halftime.
“It just didn’t go our way tonight,” Blackwell said. “But we’ve had a great season. Coach said there’s nothing to hang our heads about.”
The third quarter was Carson’s most efficient offensive display as they outscored Harding 13-9 and were reasonably in the thick of it with eight minutes left.
Harding was up 39-25 with a quarter to play when Allen hit a putback to give Carson a pulse with seven mintues to play. The Cougars got three straight stops on defense but couldn’t capitalize on the other end. Harding’s Keousha Griffin got a rebound bucket to end the drought for both teams. Center Brianna Hamrick sealed the game with a three-point play with 4:18 left that made it 43-28. There were still lots of life from Carson in the waning minutes despite their impending fate.
“They didn’t play like a Cinderella team,” Jones said of Carson. “They played like champions. [Blackwell] and [Dulkoski] are excellent shooters. They held their ground.”
Blackwell and Dulkoski both hit two free throws late to make for the final margin.
“You can’t base this game and define their four years on this game,” Misenheimer said. “They’ve had way too many successful moments and done so much for this program. They have so much to be proud of.”

CARSON (32) — Dulkoski 11, Blackwell 11, Allen 4, Barringer 3, Cole 3, Parks.
HARDING (48) — Harris 15, Currence 13, Griffin 9, Hamrick 7, Daniels 2, Sadler 2, Atwood,

Carson 7 5 13 7 — 32

Harding 19 11 9 9 — 48

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