When Shaunae Sawyers emerged from the Mount Airy locker room, several of her friends had the same question: “How many did you have?”
The 5’5” sophomore guard had no idea. The answer was a career-high 30 points, including eight 3-pointers, to help lead her fifth-ranked team to a 66-40 victory over county rival East Surry and a spot in the championship game of the Northwest 1A Conference tournament.
The Lady Bears (23-2) will host either Atkins or Bishop McGuinness for the championship on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. Those two schools will play tonight to determine who the other finalist will be.
East Surry, which has played as well as any conference team other than the Lady Bears in the last month, had high hopes coming into Tuesday night’s semifinal. The Lady Cardinals (15-11) came in on the heels of an opening-round game that they blew open with a 17-0 fourth-quarter run against North Stokes. When Madison Bowman opened the Mount Airy game with a 3-pointer, it looked like East Surry might still be rolling 22 hours later.
Unfortunately for the Lady Cardinals, that 3-0 score would mark the only time they led. Asherah Smith tied it with a three of her own, then sank two free throws at the 4:29 mark to put the Lady Bears in front. Bethany Clayton made one of two free throws for East, and it was 5-4.
And then the No. 5 train came rolling down the court, loaded with bombs.
Sawyers swung open along the left baseline, took a pass and fired. Nothing but net. East’s Chyanne Fresch answered with a short hook shot, but Sawyers was firing — and hitting — from the left wing before the Lady Cardinals could even set their defense. East Surry’s next offensive trip came up empty. Sawyers shook her defender on the left wing and connected again, putting the Lady Bears on top 14-6. Then no one else scored for two minutes before Clayton hit a hook shot in the lane with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
Too much time for Sawyers. She gunned one up from the left wing and hit it right before the buzzer. Four shots, four makes, 12 points — and a 17-8 Lady Bear lead after one.
“It’s always nice to see a player have a hot hand, come out and knock down some shots like that,” said Mount Airy coach Angela Mayfield.
Smith opened the second quarter with a layup, and Lady Cardinal coach Caleb Gilley called a quick time-out. Maybe he shouldn’t have, because Sawyers made it five on her team’s next possession, this time from 24 feet just off the top of the key. Clayton scored to stop the bleeding, but a minute later, Jo Snow led a fastbreak that ended with Sawyers scoring a layup. East Surry kept her off the board for the final 5:42 of the first half, while getting a basket-and-foul three-point play from Clayton and two baskets from Sarah Mann to keep things from getting any more out of hand. Mount Airy led 30-16 at intermission.
The third quarter was played more or less evenly. Arry Ward and Sawyers each hit a three for the hosts in this quarter, but Maddi Pennington and Clayton did for East Surry. Mount Airy briefly got up by 20, but Clayton’s trey, followed by a long jumper right before the third-quarter buzzer, left the Lady Cardinals with a 45-30 deficit after three.
After Madeline Mayfield opened the fourth quarter scoring with a drive to the basket, East Surry never got closer than 16 points. The highlight of the period came midway through, when Sawyers hit consecutive threes, both from beyond NBA range, at the same spot on the floor. She then ended her night by leading a break for Mayfield, who finished for two and an assist for her teammate. At the next break in the action, Coach Mayfield cleared her bench.
“One thing we’ve been talking about is that we’re a much better team when we’re sharing the ball,” Coach Mayfield said. “In the second half, I thought we did a much better job of getting that one extra pass, sharing the ball with our teammates and finding the people who had the hot hand.
“We’re looking to build some momentum for the playoffs, and hopefully we can keep on doing that on Friday.”
For East Surry, Clayton led the way with 16 points. Mann added seven and Fresch six. Rounding out the scoring for the Lady Bears were Smith with 17 and Mayfield with eight.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.