Officially it was Senior Night at Mount Airy High School, and it became Championship night for the Lady Bears when all was done. But sophomore Shaunae Sawyers appeared not to have received the memo.
The youngest member of the starting lineup for the state’s third-ranked 1A team stole the show on Tuesday night, leading her team to a hard-fought 52-38 victory that made Mount Airy (22-1, 11-0 Northwest Conference) the outright league champions with one regular-season game to play.
Sawyers, a 5’5” guard who joined the team late last season, scored just two points in the first quarter as the Lady Cardinals (13-10, 6-5 NW1A) took an early lead, but had one of the two 3-pointers late in the second that flipped the game’s momentum in Mount Airy’s direction. In the second half, she outscored East Surry 15-14 by herself, making seven field goals and a bonus free throw after being fouled on one of them.
However, the early part of the game was about the Lady Bears’ five seniors, Lexi France, Sarah Lankford, Megan Fleming, Shalin Revels and Amber Arnett. Mount Airy coach Angela Mayfield started the five as a unit on Tuesday night, but had to pull France shortly after the opening tip. The 5’5” forward began the season as a starter, but suffered a knee injury against North Surry on Dec. 20 that ended her season. She is still not recovered enough to play even for a short time, but did take the floor and came out to hugs from her coach and friend and teammate Asherah Smith.
In the meantime, East Surry took advantage of the emotional situation to get off to an impressive start. The Lady Cardinals’ Katlyn Creed opened the game with a 3-pointer, and even after Mount Airy put its usual starting five on the floor, the visitors kept taking the fight to the Lady Bears. After Jo Snow scored off a fastbreak to tie the game at 8, Creed and Maddi Pennington both scored for East, and when Chyanne Fresch ended the quarter with a short jumper, the Lady Cardinals led 15-11.
The Lady Bears started the second quarter strong, with Smith stealing the ball and scoring, and then Sawyers swishing a 3-pointer after a steal by Madeline Mayfield to give her team its first lead, 16-15. But East Surry refused to back down, and the teams went back and forth for the rest of the quarter, with Bethany Clayton scoring three different times to give the Lady Cardinals the lead back. With 15 seconds left in the first half and East on top 24-20, Sawyers flashed open along the left baseline and hit nothing but net. The Lady Bears proceeded to force a turnover, and on a possession that saw both teams flailing to get possession of the ball, it ended up in Megan Fleming’s hands on the right wing with less than a second to go. She let fly and hit nothing but net, giving Mount Airy a 26-24 halftime lead on the night’s fourth and final lead change.
“Senior Night is a great night, but it can get you out of your routine,” said Coach Mayfield. “I thought our girls did a great job of responding and playing hard all night. East Surry is a tough team. We talked about how they’d just beaten the No. 2 team in the conference (Atkins). They’re always going to come ready to play.
“I thought early on, we were just trying too hard, trying to do too much because it was Senior Night. It was big for us to get those two threes and take the lead right before halftime.”
Sawyers opened the second half by taking the ball to the rim against two East Surry defenders and scoring on a scoop shot. About 50 seconds later, Jo Snow got out on the break and found Smith running out for the hoop and some harm. She sank the free throw and Mount Airy was up 31-24. Pennington answered with a basket for the Lady Cardinals, but then Sawyers converted an old-fashioned three-point play, followed that up by going coast-to-coast with an East Surry miss, and the Lady Bears traded baskets the rest of the way to lead 40-31 with one quarter left.
The final eight minutes saw the Lady Bears twice go into a stall for a lengthy period of time, ultimately running about half of the quarter out and capping one of the stalls with Arry Ward hitting a 3-pointer for a 45-31 lead. Pennington and Clayton scored a few baskets for East Surry, but it wasn’t enough to get their team back in the game.
Sawyers led everyone with 23 points. Snow and Smith each tallied 10 for the Lady Bears. Clayton and Pennington tied as East Surry’s leading scorer with 14 each. Creed had seven, all in the first quarter.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.