Source: John CateThe Lady Bears’ Bailey Flippen dribbles out the final seconds of her team’s victory in the 1A state championship game on Saturday, and then it was time to celebrate!
CHAPEL HILL — “If your going to beat me, beat me like that… The better team won tonight. A tribute to their defense and us not taking care of the basketball like we should.”
Perhaps the words of Pamlico head girls’ basketball coach April Rose summed it up best. The best team in North Carolina’s 1A ranks is Mount Airy, and the Lady Bears left no doubt in the state championship game.
Mount Airy went on an 18-0 run to end the first quarter of Saturday afternoon’s first championship showdown, taking a 27-6 lead by the end of the opening period and then cruising to an almost anticlimactic 66-40 victory over the East Regional champion Hurricanes at the Dean E. Smith Center on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
“Before the game, I challenged them to come out strong. I thought we could make a statement, especially defensively,” said Mount Airy coach Angela Mayfield, who joined a short list of coaches who won the state championship in their rookie season. “I’m so proud of these girls, and how they rose to the occasion today.
“I don’t think anyone starts out a season thinking they’re going to be playing in the state championship game. It just feels awesome. I can’t describe how it feels to be here today.”
The Lady Bears, who completed their masterpiece of a season with an overall record of 30-2, took the lead on the game’s first basket, a 15-footer from the baseline by Shaunae Sawyers after 63 seconds of play, and led for the rest of the night. After a 3-pointer by Arry Ward made it 5-0, Pamlico thrice cut the margin to three points, the last time at 9-6. Immediately after that basket occurred, Mount Airy answered with a long pass down the court for an easy basket by Sawyers with 4:01 left in the opening quarter.
Rose called an immediate time-out, but whatever she told the Hurricanes, it didn’t work.
By the time the Hurricanes scored again, with 6:22 left in the second quarter, the game was effectively over. The Lady Bears, who had a 42-0 run in their season opener 88 days before, clinched the program’s first-ever state championship the same way.
Twenty-five seconds after the teams returned to the floor, Sarah Lankford got open on the right wing and knocked down a three. Another 25 seconds produced a Lady Bear fastbreak that Ward finished on a putback. The lead was 10, but Mount Airy was just getting started. Madeline Mayfield rebounded a miss and stuck it back. With 1:49 left in the first, Jo Snow stole the ball and took it 70 feet the other way for a deuce. After another 25 seconds, Sawyers did likewise, and drew a foul in the process of finishing. Her bonus free throw made it 23-6. Another Sawyers steal followed, and she fired ahead to Snow from halfcourt for another two points. The team tacked on a couple of free throws before the end of the period, and the blitzkrieg ended with the Lady Bears ahead by 21.
“Now I know how those other teams felt,” said Ross, whose team had many similar runs on its way to a 29-4 mark this season.
The Hurricanes tried to fight their way back into the game in the second quarter, a period in which Mount Airy admittedly had a letdown after expending so much energy in that explosive opening period. Pamlico’s Jainaya Jones, who was named her team’s Most Outstanding Player, hit two threes to open the frame, but the Lady Bears held their own, with Snow (7) and Lankford (4) accounting for all of the team’s points in the second eight minutes. The Hurricanes got within 32-18 on a putback by Hydia Davis with 2:01 before intermission, but Mount Airy ended the quarter on a 6-0 run and led by 20 at the break.
“We named off all of the games that we’ve done that,” said Coach Mayfield of her team’s propensity for running off huge scoring runs. “But we hadn’t done that in the last few games, and we weren’t sure why. I challenged them, when they came out of the tunnel, to bring that energy.”
There would be no second-half rally. Jones, who had 16 points and nine rebounds to lead her team, could only tread water as the Lady Bears brought every weapon to bear on the East champs. Ward hit two threes in the first three and a half minutes of the third. Mount Airy led by 21 (48-27) when Lankford rebounded and threw a long pass to Snow for two, then hit a jumper from the baseline next time down. Mount Airy ended the third on a 9-0 run to lead by 30, and its lead peaked at 34 on a layup by Asherah Smith at the 3:33 mark of the fourth quarter for a 66-32 lead. Coach Mayfield cleared her bench 16 seconds later, and the only thing left to do was celebrate.
“It’s hard to maintain that kind of energy over a whole game, but we told them at halftime that we needed to come out and make a statement,” said Coach Mayfield. “They’re a very good team, their guards are very quick, and we knew they could create some turnovers if we weren’t careful. I thought we came out and had a really great third quarter, and I’m proud of how we came out at halftime.”
Snow and Sawyers led the Lady Bears with 17 points each. The former was named the Most Valuable Player of the championship game, while the latter was named Most Outstanding Player. However, they could have gotten a run for their money from Ward, who had a career-high 15 points to go with five rebounds and five steals, and Lankford, who ended her distinguished athletic career at MAHS with nine points and five rebounds in just 14 minutes of action. Smith had four points, while Mayfield and Bailey Flippen had two each.
“I still can’t believe it. It feels awesome,” said Snow, who already owns a handful of individual state titles in track and field events.
The Lady Bears will return all five of their starters next season. But when Coach Mayfield was asked about a repeat, she said that the team would enjoy what they had accomplished, and think about that another day.
“We’re going to enjoy this moment right now,” she said. “Later on this spring, we’ll get in the gym and start working at it, but we’re going to enjoy today.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.