A fight to the finish

Lady Demons thump first-place Hunt 63-48 to tighten Big East race

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One team rose to the intensity level reserved for the Hunt-Fike varsity girls basketball rivalry Friday night. The other fell off the pace and paid the price.

The 63-48 victory for the Lady Golden Demons emboldened what was a struggling Fike outfit entering the first of two 3-A Big East Conference meetings between the archrivals. Hunt was again left to wonder what happened on Fike’s home floor, reminiscent of the scene that played out in the championship game of the 2017 Farris & Farris Holiday Tournament.

Due to inclement weather, Friday’s game was only the first conference meeting between the teams. With the Big East tournament already canceled, Hunt and Fike will reconvene next Thursday night at Hunt to close the regular season.

However, the latest rivalry installment was clearly owned by Fike (16-5, 5-3 Big East), which pulled away after Hunt made one final run to close within 51-42 with 4:24 to play. The Lady Warriors (14-6), who lost for the first time in eight conference games, were denied their initial opportunity to win a conference title outright for the first time since 1985, which is also the only such title in program history.

“I just have some girls who play different against them,” first-year Fike head coach Jeff Nelson said. “And it’s a rival thing. They hit shots that they don’t normally make, and they played a good team game tonight. We were well-rounded tonight. We played good defense, and we got a lot of tough rebounds that we needed to.”

The synopsis of Friday’s contest supported Nelson’s assessment of “well rounded” for the Lady Demons.

Senior Aniya Thigpen, a definitively streaky 3-point shooter, connected on her first attempt from long range, setting the tone for her evening. She had 11 of her game-high 19 points in the first quarter, including a trio of 3s. The third trey made it 18-13 Fike, and late in the quarter, Hunt sophomore Bria Griffith was assessed a technical foul. Thigpen made both resulting free throws, giving the Lady Demons a seven-point lead entering the second period.

Hunt head coach Tiffany Parks said her team handled the prospect of winning a conference title on its rivals home floor “poorly.”

“There were some obstacles in our way on offense that we were unable to overcome in a positive way,” she said.

Fike, which shot 19 for 55 for 34.5 percent accuracy, enhanced its 3-2 zone in the second quarter. Thigpen made a tough jumper to open the period, and with Hunt settling for jumpers against the set anchored by either one of 6-foot-2 senior Mason Blake or 6-2 junior Ashleigh Sage, the Lady Warriors were held to a 7-for-34 showing in the first half. The Lady Demons held Hunt to just 18 for 70 from the field (25.7 percent). Many of the Hunt tosses came in the form of futile jumpers inside of driving inside against Blake or Sage. Fike caught Hunt on no fewer than three inbounds plays for easy layups.

“When they were able to get inside, it was trouble,” Nelson said. “If we were able to keep them out and from getting in it (the paint), it gives them some trouble, if they’re not knocking down outside shots. We want to try to take away the paint, and the key is getting the rebounds.”

With Fike leading 25-15, Hunt senior Kayla Kent injured her ankle and left the game, not returning until the start of the fourth quarter. Senior Teresa Kent, who had 14 points for Fike, made a 3-pointer with 1:24 left in the half for a 30-15 cushion en route to a 33-19 Lady Demons lead at the half.

Hunt came out in the third quarter and made a run, slicing the deficit to five on Griffith’s running one-hander in the paint. But Thigpen responded with the last of her four 3s, sending Fike to a 43-35 cushion after three quarters. Thigpen had a double-double, grabbing 12 rebounds.

The second of two free throws by junior Shaniah Spells brought Hunt to within single digits for the last time with 3:23 to go. Yet Kent replied with her final 3-pointer, and Fike never led again by less than 12.

With Fike leading 60-48 with just over a minute remaining, Hunt declined to extend the game by fouling. Before the final buzzer, senior Jada Lee made one last trey to send the Fike partisans into another uproar.

A scenario still exists where Hunt and Fike can share the conference title — something that isn’t lost on Thigpen and her teammates.

“We know we’ve got to beat them in order to try to win,” Thigpen said. “So hopefully next Friday (actually Thursday), we can beat them again.”

HUNT (48)

Griffith 6, Jones 5, McNeill, Tucker 4, Rushing 2, Lucas 4, Kent 10, Spells 8, Smith 7, Sutton 2, Lucas.

FIKE (63)

Graham 1, Lee 9, Williams, Barbee 5, Kent 14, Pernell 5, Sage 6, Thigpen 19, Blake 4.

Score by quarters: