KERNERSVILLE — Tuesday night was a great day to be a Granite Bear.
The Mount Airy boys’ and girls’ basketball teams knew they had a challenge on their hands, with Bishop McGuinness playing at home and both of its teams fighting for high seeds in the upcoming Northwest 1A Conference tournament and NCHSAA 1A state playoffs. In addition, the Lady Bears needed the victory in order to clinch the 2017-18 NW1A conference title outright.
Mission accomplished on both counts. Bishop’s girls actually gave Mount Airy a tussle, holding a 27-26 lead at halftime before the Lady Bears (19-2, 9-0 NW1A), the state’s top-ranked 1A team per MaxPreps, NCPreps.com and the AP polls, turned up the heat in the second half and held Bishop (12-10, 6-3), to just six points in the third quarter. The Lady Bears pulled away to a 54-41 victory.
In the nightcap, Mount Airy (14-6, 6-3) bounced back from a heartbreaking two-point loss to top-ranked Winston-Salem Prep and beat No. 5-ranked Bishop on the road, 62-53. The win secured a season sweep of the Villains and moved the Bears into a second-place tie in the league standings with South Stokes. Bishop (17-6, 4-5) dropped into fourth place.
The Villains focused on shutting down Mount Airy big man Donavon Greene, but the Bears responded with strong play on the perimeter — a strong suit of the Villains — with Ryan Graham leading the way with 18 points. Caleb Arrington added 16 and Greg Greene 10. Similar to the first meeting between the teams, a 73-63 Bear victory two weeks ago, it was close most of the way, with Mount Airy clinging to a 26-24 halftime lead, then upping the pace and finally getting some separation in the second half.
The Bishop girls had a solid inside-outside game that they used to good effect against the Lady Bears. For the second straight time facing Mount Airy, Villain center Bridget Simmons was strong in the middle, with 13 points on 6-10 shooting and seven rebounds. This helped senior guard Emily Elliott find open shots from long range, and she went 5-9 on 3-pointers to lead the home team with 15 points.
Unfortunately for Bishop, the Lady Bears have plenty of weapons, too.
Mount Airy actually started the game off well, tearing up the Villains for 19 points in the first quarter and a 19-10 edge on the scoreboard. However, Bishop surprised everyone with a 17-7 second quarter of its own, and Mount Airy found itself trailing at halftime for the only the second time all season — the Lady Bears had been down five at West Forsyth, the state’s fifth-ranked 4A team.
After halftime, the Lady Bears turned in a ferocious defensive effort and regained control of the game, outscoring the Villains 15-6 to lead 41-33 with one quarter remaining. Mount Airy made enough free throws down the stretch to pull away for the win.
Jo Snow led the Lady Bears with 20 points. Asherah Smith added 16 and Shaunae Sawyers 10. Sawyers also had eight rebounds, six assists and four steals. Arry Ward had nine rebounds and Smith seven.
Mount Airy will travel to East Surry tonight to wrap up the regular season.