West Rowan boys beaten by late 3-pointer
By David Shaw
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan’s boys basketball team is hoping a difficult path leads to a beautiful destination.
It turned a few more heads in Tuesday’s pulsating, 66-64 loss to South Piedmont Conference-leader Cox Mill.
“We considered this stretch a gauntlet,” coach Mike Gurley said. “Right now we’re 2-2 in the gauntlet. We could have been 4-0, but we’re not. This fish we really want to fry down the road, we’re learning the right ingredients and the right temperature right now. We’re skinning the fish right now.”
Gurley was in classic form, both during and after the game as host West (16-7, 12-5) fell on a picturesque 3-pointer by Cox Mill’s Francis Sio with six seconds remaining. The 20th-year coach spent another four quarters shredding his throat and nearly pushed the Falcons to Senior Night victory.
“That team is resilient. They nearly beat us,” Cox Mill coach Jody Barbee said after the Chargers (17-6, 15-2) clinched at least a tie for the league title. “And the man on the sideline is the one who makes them that way.”
West, which closes its regular season Friday at Hickory Ridge, missed a chance to win when Darius Kure’s long, well-defensed shot from the right corner dropped short at the buzzer.
“At the end of the day,” Gurley said, “our thing is a week-and-a-half from now, we’re gonna go to the sectionals and play somebody. We want to be ready for that. I told them (Monday) on the bus, if we only win one game this week, let’s not worry about it. Let’s just keep playing hard.”
West’s performance was suitable-for-framing. It took a 15-7 lead when Kortez Weeks ball-faked his way down the lane for a layup and teammate Austin Love followed with a put-back late in the opening quarter. By the time center Caleb Mauldin (team-high 27 points) scored his first basket a minute into the second period, the Falcons were clinging to a 17-16 edge.
Cox Mill had a 34-33 halftime lead — thanks largely to Sio’s 20 first-half points. There were 10 lead changes in the third quarter and the guests eased to a 61-57 edge when Sio (game-high 30 points) converted both ends of a one-and-one with 3:53 to play. “I had a great first half,” said Sio, a six-foot senior guard. “In the second half they started paying a lot more attention to me.”
West took its final lead, 64-63, on Paris Hillie’s power-drive layup down lane with with 35 seconds to go. Each team called a timeout with 15.8 seconds on the clock, setting the stage for Sio’s game winner. Barbee called a play designed for 6-6 sophomore Wendell Moore down low or — as a second option — Sio beyond the arc.
“We’ve run that last play 40 times in the last two weeks,” Barbee said afterward. “If Wendell is open on the block, it goes to him. If not, we swing it to Francis up top. That time they triple-teamed Wendell on the bottom.”
That left Sio open in space just left of the top of the key. His 20-footer caught nothing but net.
“Wendell draws a lot of attention, being who he is,” Sio said, referencing Moore’s early offer from UNC. “They gambled and doubled or tripled him. This time we won. When it left my hand, I knew it was cash.”
And when Kure’s ensuing shot misfired, the Chargers had a season sweep against West.
“Due to the coaching on the West Rowan side, I got them to focus on not letting Moore get the ball,” Gurley said. “It kind of broke down fundamentally and we left Sio wide open. To his credit, he nailed it.”
COX MILL (66) — Sio 30, Moore 16, Stone-Carawell 10, Claude 4, Cline 2, Noone 2, Johnson 2.
_WEST ROWN (64) — Mauldin 27, Weeks 11, Hillie 9, Kure 9, Love 4, Hogue 2, Lawrence 2, Delgado, Rankin, Robinson.
Cox Mill 11 23 19 13 — 66
W. Rowan 15 18 16 15 — 64
WEST GIRLS STUMBLE
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan’s girls are stumbling across the finish line.
The Falcons made only five fields goals in the second half Tuesday and dropped a 68-53 SPC decision to visiting Cox Mill.
“We’re a little bit down, a little bit defeated right now,” coach Ashley Poole said after West (13-10, 8-9) suffered its third conference loss in its past four games. “But they understand they’re not done.”
The Falcons played catch-up for most of the first half and forged a 33-33 tie at the break. But Cox Mill (9-13, 8-9) used an 11-0 run to open the second half to take command. West’s only third-quarter basket was Mary Sobataka’s 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 46-39 late in the period.
West inched as close as 54-51 when Shyann Vaughters took a pass from Egypt Alexander and made the Falcons’ last field goal with 4:33 to play. Cox Mill responded with a decisive 12-0 spurt and finished the game on a 14-2 run.
“I told them (Cox Mill) was going to come out and shoot in the second half,” Poole said. “They’re a shooting team — and we just got lost on defense. We didn’t stick with our man, didn’t put a hand in the face. If you leave them open they’re gonna hit it.”
Alexander led West with 16 points and Sobataka added 14. Cox Mill senior Rachel Barker paced all scorers with 24 points, including 10 in the third quarter.
West closes its conference season Friday at Hickory Ridge.
COX MILL (68) — Barker 24, Coley 14, Rinkus 8, Holmes 8, Sondrini 4, Riddle 3, Tillery 3, Kimes 2, No. 40 2.
WEST ROWAN (53) — Alexander 16, Sobataka 14, Vaughters 8, Wilson 4, Poole 3, Connolly 3, Fesperman 2, Robinson 1, Hillie 1, Pruitt 1, Blabon.
Cox Mill 20 13 15 20 — 68
West Rowan 18 15 8 12 — 53