Matchups were frequent between Fike's Mason Blake, right, and Nash Central's Anna Shaye Thompson during Thursday night's tournament semifinals clash in the Southern Nash High gym.
Sheldon Vick | Special to The Times
Fike's Nevaeh Barbee bounces a pass past Nash Central's Myia Spivey (14) during the first half of Thursdya night's tournament semifinal in the Southern Nash High gym.
Sheldon Vick | Special to The Times
By Tom Ham
Senior Staff Writer
STANHOPE — The last surge belonged to the Nash Central High varsity girls basketball team.
Senior Michaela Nelms swished each of her four free throws in the final 23-plus seconds and No. 2-seeded Fike, despite numerous rallies, was denied a shot at winning the 3-A Big East Conference tournament by virtue of a 43-39 loss to Nash Central in the Southern Nash High gym on Thursday night.
The teams tied for second place during the regular season, and a coin flip dictated Fike as the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. But with Thursday night’s semifinals triumph, the Lady Bulldogs (15-8) advanced into Friday’s championship game against Rocky Mount.
“It’s disappointing because we wanted to really win the conference tournament,” commented sophomore Aniya Thigpen, who paced Fike (17-7) with 13 points and also grabbed nine rebounds. “It came down to the end and we couldn’t pull through. We played good, actually.”
Actually, positives for both teams were limited until the dramatic final minute. Nash Central canned 18 of 66 shots from the floor for 27-percent accuracy, while the Lady Golden Demons of head coach Kim Howard were 16 of 74 for 22 percent. The Lady Bulldogs connected on 7 of 18 free throws as compared to 4 of 14 for Fike. Turnovers totaled 19 for Nash Central and 17 for the Demons.
Both teams struggled at the foul line but, with 23.2 seconds showing, Nelms nailed a pair for a 41-37 Nash Central lead. Fike’s Teresa Kent answered with a semi-hook for her only basket less than eight seconds later.
Nelms was again fouled and drained two more free throws for the final margin with 12.3 seconds left. This time, Fike had no answer.
“She’s a good player and I knew she was going to make the free throws,” Thigpen said of Nelms. “We were actually trying to foul somebody else.”
Fike never led again after junior Jada Lee scored the opening basket.
Nash Central responded with the next six points en route to a 14-6 advantage. The Lady Bulldogs were boosted by a 3-pointer each fromMitchell and senior Miya Spivey.
The Lady Demons cut into the deficit before the Lady Bulldogs surged to a 20-10 margin. Thigpen and Lee brought Fike back within a point (20-19) at halftime.
The Lady Bulldogs netted the first eight points of the second half. The Lady Demons were scoreless the second half until Lee scored off a steal with 2:31 left in the quarter. Fike, down 28-25 after three quarters, fell behind 37-30 in the final quarter as Nash Central’s Mitchell connected on three consecutive layups following Fike turnovers.
With the score 33-30, Fike’s Lee was injured in a spill under the basket with 4:10 remaining. Before she returned, Mitchell scored twice more.
The Lady Demonsagain answered, drawing as close as 37-35 on Thigpen’s 3-pointer and at 39-37 on 6-foot-2 junior Mason Blake’s bucket with 46 seconds remaining.
Blake responded with arguably her best peformance of the season with 14 rebounds, a half-dozen blocked shots and six rebounds.
Triggering Nash Central was the duo of Nelms (19 points) and sophomore Kayelin Mitchell (15).
“We didn’t play terrible,” assessed Nash Central head coach Terri Cash,but we’ve got to do a better job of sticking with the system. We got out of here with a win, and that was the goal.”
The Lady Bulldogs’ head coach mentioned a backside defensive adjustment in the second half and added: “We talked (at halftime) about spending more time with the basketball and not throwing up shots.”
Both teams put up more than their share of attempts that were woefully off-target.