High school basketball: West challenges, but Carson girls win tournament
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Carson’s girls basketball team has been so dominant this season that Friday’s 69-45 final in the North Piedmont Conference Tournament championship game felt like a nail-biter.
It was, by far, Carson’s toughest game of the season. The top-seeded and seventh-ranked Cougars (14-0) led by only four points at halftime, and the Falcons, who got all 45 points from an exciting freshmen class, actually led by a point in the third quarter before Carson erupted like an orange and blue volcano.
Second-seeded West (10-4) shook off 71-46 and 78-38 regular-season wipeouts by Carson and made things exciting for quite a while.
“West played with great intensity from the very first possession,” Carson head coach Brooke Stouder said. ‘They came ready to compete, and we struggled to score in the first half. We weren’t finishing anything inside.”
Carson led 16-7 after a quarter, but the second quarter belonged to the young Falcons. Makaylah Tenor hit two 3-pointers in the period, and the Falcons were executing their game plan. That meant running deadly Carson shooters Colbie Perry and Ellie Wilhelm off the 3-point line, forcing them put the ball on the floor.
Carson’s 6-foot- junior Mary Spry blocked a shot, ran the floor and scored on the other end for a 26-21 Carson lead.
Emma Clarke came right back with a 3-pointer for West. Carleigh Perry’s stickback gave Carson a 28-24 lead at the break, but the Falcons had the momentum.
“West looked different tonight — you could see that they wanted to win a championship as freshmen and they were full-go,” Spry said. “No one really had to say much in our locker room at halftime. We knew what we needed to do. The shots we normally make weren’t falling, but we had to stop letting that affect our defense.”
Carson’s third-quarter run was so fast and furious that it ended with the Cougars leading by 18 — 49-31. Kary Hales banked in a 3-pointer to cap a flurry.
Spry turned in a monster night with a season-high 21 points and nine rebounds. She stepped outside and made three 3-pointers. That’s not something she normally does, but she has a sweet lefty stroke.
Spry transferred from East Rowan, so she’s made a major effort to blend in and pass the ball to new teammates. But there are nights when she’s Carson’s best player. She can take over if she has to.
“They were focusing their defense on stopping Colbie and Ellie,” Spry said. “They usually were leaving me unguarded. I don’t take a lot of 3s, but I was wide open.”
Even after the Cougars threw — and landed — that knockout punch in the third quarter, the Falcons weren’t ready to leave. They scored six straight to start the fourth quarter to get back within 12.
But all the Cougars were starting to click by then. Carson regained control.
“It’s hard not having the normal number of fans because the fans are where you get energy,” Spry said. “We had to find that energy tonight by feeding off each other.”
Carleigh Perry had 14 points and 14 rebounds. Wilhelm had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Colbie Perry scored 13.
‘West was playing with a lot of toughness, so Carleigh Perry’s grit on the boards was huge,” Stouder said.
Carson played without starter Hannah Isley, sixth person Lani Isley and Jaden Vaughn, who is tallest Cougar other than Spry. That meant Aliayah White, who made a 3-pointer, and Camden Corley played increased minutes.
West lost players to injuries during the course of a physical game.
De’Mya Phifer had her best game in a couple of weeks and scored 12 to lead the Falcons. Clarke and Tenor scored 10 each. Mya Edwards had eight, while Lauren Arnold, who usually is a lock for double figures, was held to five.
“We didn’t shoot great from 3 (10-for-30) and we were awful on 2s (15-for-46),” Stouder said. “But I do believe this was good for us. Things have generally come easily for us this season, and tonight they definitely didn’t. Tonight we had to work through things when we were struggling to finish. It was a struggle for us, and credit West for that.”
Carson has the state playoff pairings to look forward to on Sunday.
West is unlikely to make the condensed playoffs this time, but there’s a lot to look forward to.
“Those freshmen they’ve got — the day will come when they’re the team to beat,” Stouder said.
The tournament championship is the third for the Cougars. They’ve all come in the last four seasons.
WEST (45) — Phifer 12, Clarke 10, Tenor 10, Edwards 8, Arnold 5, Cuthbertson, Durham, Simpson, Wiggins, Wheeler.
CARSON (69) —Spry 21, Wilhelm 15, Ca. Perry 14, Co. Perry 13, White 3, Hales 3, Corley.
W. Rowan 7 17 7 14 — 45
Carson 16 12 21 20 — 69