High school girls basketball: Falcons answer rare challenge

Published 7:19 pm Saturday, January 28, 2023

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — People are talking about what a tough game West Rowan’s girls basketball team had on Friday.

That sort of  chatter makes head coach Ashley Poole smile. The Falcons, who are undefeated and No. 1 in the 3A West RPI rankings, survived that “tough game” by 28 — 68-40 over Northwest Cabarrus.

While it wasn’t exactly a nail-biter, at least it was competitive. West was only ahead of the Trojans by 13 at halftime and by 15 after three quarters.

The running clock mercy rule that kicks in when there’s a 40-point lead at halftime or in the second half was not needed. That was a change for the Falcons, who have been crushing most of their South Piedmont Conference opponents. They enjoyed playing a normal 32 minutes.

“This was a physical game, a very good game against a good team,” Poole said. “Our bigs played really well and we rebounded very well. It’s good to be challenged, and Northwest definitely challenged us. We had to make some halftime adjustments and we haven’t had to do much of that. We came out of the press in the second half and played very tough defense in the half-court.”

West (19-0, 10-0) is off to the best start in school history with an unusual combination of speed, size and depth. And while they have never won one, the Falcons have established themselves as one of the favorites for the 3A state championship. East Lincoln, second in the 3A West RPI rankings and the team that knocked the Falcons out of the playoffs last season, is also undefeated.

West led Northwest 16-6 after a quarter and was up 36-23 at halftime.

The Trojans, who got 15 points from Re’ale Walton, stayed within striking distance during a rugged third quarter.

West finally blew it open in the fourth, with Lauren Arnold and De’Mya Phifer getting seven points each in the quarter.

As is normally the case, the Falcons put four girls in double figures.

The consistent Arnold scored 18 and has been in double figures in 17 of the Falcons’ 19 games. Phifer, a quick guard who has been hot the last few weeks, scored 15. Phifer has averaged 15.8 in her last six games.

Emma Clarke scored 12, including seven in the second quarter to help West stay in control. Jamecia Huntley, the most experienced Falcon when it comes to the postseason, scored 11. The role will likely get bigger and bigger for the former Salisbury standout as West makes its playoff charge.

Poole, who now has 163 career wins in 10 seasons — that’s seventh all-time for Rowan girls basketball — isn’t concerned that West’s regular season has been a long train of low-stress victories, with a limited amount of adversity.

She isn’t worried even though the second-highest SPC team in the 3A West RPI rankings is Lake Norman Charter, which is 15th. Northwest Cabarrus (11-6,7-3) is ranked 20th. On an average night, based on their points scored and points allowed, the Falcons win 73-28. That’s too easy.

“The thing is I saw in the summer what our girls can do when they’re in tough games and we were in plenty of them (against 4A Charlotte schools),” Poole said. “If we get in tight games in the playoffs, I have no doubt that we’ll respond well to pressure. I think we saw that tonight. Northwest played us tough, and I really liked the way this team responded.”

NW Cabarrus    6    17     8     9   — 40

W. Rowan         16   20   10   22   — 68

NWC — Walton 15, Moore 8, Hilsenroth 7, Ortscheid 5, Gordon 5.

West — Arnold 18, Phifer 15, Clarke 12, Huntley 11, Thompson 5, Tenor 3, Durham 2, Cuthbertson 2.