SALISBURY — It took nearly three quarters, but top-seeded East Rowan finally shook a spirited Salisbury side in Friday’s Moir Christmas Classic semifinal showdown, 54-44.
Powered by post players Karleigh Wike (19 points, 19 rebounds) and Kelli Fisher (15 points, seven rebounds), the Mustangs pulled away to punch their ticket to tonight’s championship game.
“It wasn’t our best basketball, that’s for sure. But we played well enough in spurts to come away with the win,” East head coach Danielle Porter said. “That’s what I told the girls, that they are talented enough that even at their worst, they’re going to beat some teams.
“Defense sealed it for us,” she continued. “That’s kind of been our mantra all year – let our defense create offense. We got after a couple 50-50 balls and got a quick outlet and got some easy buckets out of it.”
The No. 1 Mustangs struggled to find their rhythm out of the gate, shooting just 26 percent from the floor in the first half as Salisbury matched them point-for-point.
Led by 11 first-half points from senior Monifa Angle, the Hornets battled to a 22-22 deadlock at the intermission.
A quick 6-2 spurt coming out of the locker room gave Salisbury a 28-24 advantage with 5:11 to play in the third quarter.
But from that point on, the Mustangs began to impose their will down low.
Wike and Fisher combined for 10 points during a 14-3 charge to close the third quarter as East built up a 38-29 lead.
“The third quarter was what hurt us. They went on a little run in the third quarter and we couldn’t quite catch up,” Salisbury head coach Lakai Brice said. We ran out of gas a little bit.”
A last-ditch push by the Hornets cut the deficit down to two at 41-39, forcing Porter to call a timeout.
But East scored 13 of the game’s final 18 points to pull away for the 10-point victory to advance to the championship contest.
“It was an ugly win but it was a win,” Wike said. “The first-round bye was kind of a curse because we had some jitters. Hopefully we can come out tonight ready to go.”
Porter said the team needs to get back to “playing East Rowan basketball” in order to compete with North Rowan.
“We’ll have to really rise up tonight to compete with North Rowan – which we can do. This was not really representative of how we play normally,” she explained.
“We’re going to have to do a better job at boxing out and transition defense. We need to go out there and get it and just play East Rowan basketball the way it should be represented.”
Shenell Pharr finished with seven points and six steals for the Mustangs, while Amani Ajayi added six points.
East dominated the offensive glass, pulling down 26 offensive rebounds, including eight by Wike, while winning the rebound battle 49-40.
Salisbury lost for the first time in five games, but Brice believes the performance will benefit her squad during the season.
“[Being able to stay with East] speaks volumes about this team. It’s a confidence booster and it’s going to help us along the way,” she said. “They’re starting to understand that we’re good – just as good as any team in this county and in our conference.
“We played well and held our own. We’re right there.”
Angle finished with a team-high 17 points, while pulling in seven boards with three steals. Nyasia Harris added seven points, while Breya Philpot and Sierra Charles tallied five points apiece.
The Hornets (5-6) will play Davie County (4-6) in today’s third-place game. Tip off is slated for 3 p.m.
East (10-0) advances to meet second-seeded North Rowan (6-0) in tonight’s title game between unbeaten county squads. Tip off is set for 6:00 p.m.
The Cavaliers breezed past Davie County 50-30 in the first semifinal Friday afternoon to reach the championship round.
Both teams will be looking to end long title droughts tonight. North hasn’t hoisted the Moir trophy since 2002, while East hasn’t won it since 2001.
The matchup will also be the first girls final between undefeated Rowan County clubs in the tournament’s history.
“We’re hungry for it,” Wike stated.
SALISBURY (44) — Angle 17, Harris 7, Philpot 5, Charles 5, Alexander 4, Wolfe 3, Anderson 3, Robinson.
EAST ROWAN (54) — Wike 19, Fisher 15, Shenell Pharr 7, Ajayi 6, Thomas 5, Lowe 2, Sheniquee Pharr, Benge.
E. Rowan 12 10 16 16 — 54
Salisbury 12 10 7 15 — 44
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