Prep Basketball: West Rowan girls lose a thriller
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — All West Rowan’s girls needed was a fair night from the foul line, but they had a poor one.
The Falcons shot 14-for-33 on free throws, including a few front ends of one-and-ones, and they lost to Weddington, 71-70, in the third round of the 3A state playoffs.
While execution frequently came up short, the effort was terrific between two evenly matched teams. Neither fourth-seeded West (27-3) nor fifth-seeded Weddington (26-2) had lost a game in two months, and they showed why.
“I didn’t feel like we could lose — until we did,” said West senior Khaila Hall, who signed this week with Longwood to play NCAA Division I basketball. “We knew what we were up against as far as their height, but it was a well-fought game. We fought and we fought, but we lost to a good team.”
Eygpt Alexander scored 21 points for the Falcons. Hall had 17 points and eight assists. Taylor Martin scored 12 points, while Shanice Miller had 10.
Erin Addison (15), Remi Roberts (14) and Elanna Peay (11) led the scoring for the Warriors. Blaire Brown, who made the game-deciding free throw with 3.9 seconds remaining, was a hero at the end.
Both teams battled through desperate foul trouble.
“It was a tough situation for us on defense,” Weddington coach Ryun Cook said. “We wanted to play zone, but West Rowan moved the ball so well that we couldn’t play them zone. Then we went man-to-man and we got into foul trouble.”
Hall was dominant when she was on the floor. West’s biggest obstacle, other than making free throws, was Hall’s foul issues. Hall got her second personal midway through the first quarter, and coach Ashley Poole wanted to sit her out until the second half.
But she couldn’t. When Hall exited, West led 12-8.
With West trailing 31-21 with three minutes left in the half and Weddington threatening to pull away, Poole had no choice but to send Hall to the scorer’s table. That move paid off. Hall avoided another foul and she got West back within 37-31 at the break.
“We did a great job to stay close, playing so long without Khaila,” Poole said. “Down six at the half, we felt like we were in good shape. And then Khaila goes out there for the third quarter and just takes over.”
Hall scored 13 points in West’s 28-point third quarter, mostly on soaring drives, and when she wasn’t scoring, she was breaking down Weddington’s defense and delivering the ball to Alexander in scoring position.
“We didn’t execute in the first half, but in the second half we did,” Hall said. “When we executed, we made a good run.”
The bad news for West in the third quarter was Hall’s third foul — and then her fourth. The fourth was an oddity. A referee gave it to Alexander, then changed it to Martin, then finally switched it to Hall.
Hall attacked the rim for another spectacular hoop and a 59-50 West lead at the end of the period, but it was clear West’s ability to maintain that lead was going to come down to whether or not Hall was on the floor at the end.
The Falcons had battered Weddington 38-21 over a long stretch, the Warriors had no answer for Hall’s explosiveness, and West had most of the crowd. Still, Cook didn’t allow his team to waver, even with a patchwork lineup on the floor due to foul trouble. Roberts, a smooth, 6-foot-1 junior committed to Charlotte’s soccer program, is a game-changer, and she was sitting down with four personals.
“We did a good job of keeping our heads and keeping our composure when it didn’t look good,” Cook said. “We’re fortunate that we have a sophomore point guard (Addison) who is fearless, and we needed all of her fearless confidence tonight. She made a lot of plays in the fourth quarter.”
Hall started the fourth quarter on the bench, but West was able to use clock and still keep the lead for a while. When Miller scored on stick-back with under four minutes left, West led 66-57, but then Addison started taking the ball to the hoop and scoring on every possession.
With the Falcons trying to hang on to a five-point lead with three minutes left, Hall returned and made the front end of a one-and-one for a 67-61 lead. Addison, who had 11 in the fourth quarter, answered immediately.
After Alexander and Miller missed pointblank shots on the same possession, Roberts made a bucket for Weddington to cut the Falcons’ lead to 67-65.
Alexander answered for West, but with 51 seconds left, disaster struck for West. Roberts got a three-point play inside, and Hall got her fifth foul trying to block the shot.
West’s lead was down to 69-68. Alexander drove hard and was fouled with 36 seconds left. She made one of two, and the Falcons led 70-68.
Martin had to be careful with four fouls, and Brown, a 5-4 sophomore guard, drove by her from the right wing and made the clutch runner that tied the game at 70-all.
Martin was fouled in the backcourt with 17 seconds left. That’s who West wanted at the line in a tough situation, but the senior missed both.
Blaire drove again and was rewarded with a whistle with 3.9 seconds remaining. She also had a tough night at the foul line (3-for-10), but she made the one she had to make to put Weddington on top.
She missed her second shot. After a fight for the rebound, Weddington got the ball back.
West didn’t have enough team fouls in the second half to put Weddington on the foul line. Alexander made a steal with a half-second left, but time expired before she could even make a desperation heave toward the distant goal.
Weddington moves on to play at top-seeded Morganton Freedom.
For West, it’s the end of a season that saw a school record for wins (27) and 19-game-winning streak that matched the longest in school history.
“We didn’t make our free throws, not just at the end, but early in the game,” Poole said. “It hurts. It hurts because the girls fought tonight the same way they fought all year. They played hard every night all season. They set a new standard here.”
It was the final game for West’s seniors, including starters Hall, Martin and Miller.
“We missed 19 free throws and we lost by one,” Martin said. “Khaila played her best game all season and she put us on her back. When she got that fifth foul, we wanted to win it for her, but we just couldn’t. Right now it’s hard, but as seniors we’ll look back one day and know we were part of a team that won championships and set records. Not many people can say that.”
Weddington 71, West Rowan 70
Addison 15, Roberts 14, Peay 11, Mann 9, Schuster 8, McCarthy 7. Brown 5, Proctor 2.
WEST ROWAN (70)
Alexander 21, Hall 17, Martin 12, Miller 10, Sobataka 6, Pharr 4, Vaughters.
Weddington 14 23 13 21 — 71
W. Rowan 14 17 28 11 — 70