High school basketball: Carson girls do it again, but nothing comes easily

Published 9:58 pm Saturday, February 26, 2022

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — Third-round 3A state playoff contests are supposed to be much smoother and prettier than this.

Carson’s girls came out on top, so they’ll take it.

“They make me want to pull my hair out at times,” Carson coach Brooke Stouder admitted with a smile. “But they do play hard. They’ve got grit.”

Not grits as in the famous Southern breakfast dish, but grit as in courage and intestinal fortitude and strength of character.

Nothing comes easy for the Cougars, but they win. They are 25-3 after beating Ashbrook 45-38 on Saturday night.

Who cares what the shooting percentages were? They’re still playing. North Davidson will come to China Grove on Tuesday.

Officially, top-seeded Carson committed 19 turnovers, although it seemed like a lot more than that.

Officially, the visitors from Gastonia made one 3-pointer, but that didn’t discourage the Green Wave from firing them up all night.

Carson made only two 3-pointers. It was not a great night to be a shooter.

Carson stayed back in a 2-3 zone with hands up for 32 minutes and watched Ashbrook fire blanks from long range. Then Carson’s Mary Spry (12 boards), Hannah Isley (8) and Riley Isley (6) would grab the rebounds.

Ninth-seeded Ashbrook (20-9) was aggressive and got in brutal foul trouble in the first half. Three starters, including 6-footer Emerald Butler and the very impressive Madison Cole, who would score 20 points, had three fouls each before the break. That was a serious factor.

Both teams had issues scoring early, but Carson’s Aliayah White made one of Carson’s two 3-pointers while she was being crashed into. Her four-point play gave Carson a 10-4 lead. That was big. The Green Wave spent the rest of the night chasing the Cougars on the scoreboard.

The Cougars were outstanding at the foul line (15-for-18), and a flurry of free throws by hard-working Makayla Johnson helped the Cougars increase their lead. When Spry, a 6-foot lefty,  wheeled and scored in the paint, Carson took a 23-13 lead five minutes before halftime.

Carson staggered and stumbled to the half, but still had a 27-19 lead against the ice-cold and foul-plagued visitors.

“For most of our girls, this was the biggest game they’d ever played in,” Stouder said. “There were some nerves and it certainly was never pretty offensively, But we battled. I was proud of how hard we battled.”

Ashbrook chipped away in the third quarter. Cole made back-to-back shots, and the Green Wave briefly climbed within three at 33-30.

Carson took a 35-30 lead to the last eight minutes.

“We were turning it over a lot, but we never lost our composure,” said Spry, who scored 16 points. “They were in foul trouble. We just had to play smart.”

With six minutes left, Cole connected on a runner. The lead was down to 35-32 and the Cougars hadn’t made a shot in a while. But they worked the ball in to Spry, who had defenders draped  over her. Spry scored, anyway, for 37-32.

What may have been the game’s most critical play occurred next. Spry led a Carson fast break  and flipped a pass ahead of a sprinting White. White ran the ball down, but missed the layup. Camden Corley followed up on the play and made a stick-back as she was fouled. It was a nice hustle play and Corley’s three-point play came at just the right time for the Cougars.

Leading 44-38 with 3:05 left, Carson went to an all-out stall and took two and a half minutes off the clock, with Ashbrook chasing, but not fouling.

“Our delay game wasn’t very pretty, either, but it was effective,” Stouder said. “We took a lot of time off.”

Carson turned it over with 35 seconds left, but Ashbrook missed one more time. Riley Isley — the lone white jersey among multiple green ones — came down with the tough rebound that sealed victory.

“If I had to sum up tonight in one word, it would toughness,” Spry said. “We were tough. We fed off each other. We struggled at times, but the energy always stayed up.”


Ashbrook    6    13   11   8   — 38

Carson       13    14   8    10  — 45

ASHBROOK —  Cole 20, Bess 12, Brooks 2, Butler 2, Woods 2.

CARSON — Spry 16, H, Isley 7, Johnson 7, Corley 6, White 6, R. Isley 3.