DOBSON — Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
North Surry’s girls’ basketball team had won or shared the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference title for seven years in a row before 2017-18. This year, the Lady Hounds finished third, behind co-champions Atkins and Forbush.
This week, North Surry reminded everyone who the WPAC’s premier program is, sweeping through the conference tournament with three wins in five days, culminating in a 48-38 victory over Atkins in Friday night’s championship game at Surry Central High School.
“It’s been a satisfying week to say the least,” said North Surry head coach Shane Slate, whose team had already vanquished Forbush the night before. “We’ve been pretty good defensively all year, but even there, we were more in sync in terms of rotations and helping each other. I felt like about three weeks ago, we started to turn the corner.
“We missed a chance to get Atkins at our place when we were up and let them come back and take it from us in overtime, but we’ve had so many close games where we shot ourselves in the foot, and then to win two close games against two good teams the last two nights has been awfully good to these girls.”
The Lady Hounds, now 15-12 on the season, took the lead for good 72 seconds into the second quarter, when tournament MVP Callie Willard put North ahead 15-13 with a driving three-foot jumper in the lane. The rest of the second quarter was a tour de force from senior Mikaela Johnson, who scored the Lady Hounds’ last 13 points of the first half. Johnson outscored the Camels (19-5) by six points in the quarter, and North Surry took a 28-20 lead into intermission.
Willard, who scored 15 points in the Lady Hounds’ victory, opened the third quarter the same way she had the second, hitting a 3-pointer from the right wing and then a 17-foot jumper from the baseline to give North its biggest lead of the game at 33-20 with six minutes remaining in the period. Atkins coach Louis Lowery called a quick time-out and settled his team down. The Camels, currently the state’s eighth-ranked 2A team, got five quick points from Synde Sawyer to cut the gap back to single digits. North’s Martha Holt stopped the run with a 10-footer, but Atkins kept pushing, led by guard Taylor Blakely, a highly-rated prospect who has already signed with Air Force for next season. Blakely, who led everyone with 20 points, gunned in a couple of shots and Atkins closed to within five before Hannah Moxley knocked down two free throws to make it 37-30 with a quarter to play.
The Camels were tough, but North Surry was steel in the final period. Atkins never got closer than five points in the second half, and North’s defense shut down everyone but Blakely in the fourth quarter. The 5’11” senior got eight points down the stretch, but two Lady Hound seniors made sure it wasn’t enough. North’s D-1 signee, Johnson, made two front ends of a one-and-one with 3:39 left and her team up five, then scored again on the next possession, powering her way through a double-team and scoring on a reverse layup to make it 43-34. After Blakely made four straight free throws to again make it a five-point game, Holt drilled two free throws with 51 seconds remaining.
Two more charity tosses from Moxley and one of two from Johnson in the final 24 seconds provided the final margin of victory.
The Lady Hounds won their fourth straight game and eighth in nine tries, with the only setback an overtime loss to Atkins back on Feb. 7. By taking the conference tournament crown, North Surry leapt over Forbush and claimed the WPAC’s No. 2 seed for the state playoffs.
“We’ve been there all year, we’d just missed some opportunities,” said Slate. “Hopefully, this is a sign we’re going in the right direction. I’m fairly familiar with most of the teams (in the playoffs), and I feel like we can compete with anyone who’s out there.”
Atkins led for most of the first quarter of the finals, but North stayed close on 3-pointers by Willard and Taylor Duncan, and it was 13-10 Atkins at the end of the opening frame. Another three by Willard to start the second quarter tied it, and her next basket put North ahead for good.
Johnson led the champs with 18 points, followed by Willard’s 15 and six each from Holt and Moxley. Kianna Jackson scored eight for the Camels.
Duncan and Moxley joined Willard on the All-Tournament team from North Surry.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.