WHS girls fall to Freedom in tournament
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
MORGANTON -- Watauga girls' basketball coach Klay Anderson liked where his team was going into the fourth quarter of the Pioneers' game against Freedom Thursday.
Watauga, seeded sixth in the Northwestern Conference Tournament, led the No. 2-seeded Patriots by two points going into the fourth quarter. Watauga held the Patriots, who were playing at home, to just three points and no field goals during the third period.
Then the Pioneers stopped scoring and Freedom stormed back to claim a 50-39 victory in the semifinal game.
Watauga (9-17), which was swept by Freedom in two games during the regular season, was coming off a pair of emotional victories over South Caldwell on Monday and Tuesday. The second win, which was the first time Watauga beat South Caldwell in Sawmills since 1997, was emotional and left the Pioneers a bit tired, according to Anderson.
"We did not have a very intense practice (Wednesday) because we were trying to get some rest," Anderson said. "We needed rest. We had two hard games. We played an extra game against a high-powered opponent and I thought we looked tired early, but I thought we worked ourselves out of it."
After trailing by 14 in the first quarter, Watauga rallied and took a 33-31 lead after Ryan Loflin scored on a drive, and Clare Harris followed with a 3-point basket. Harris' bucket, scored with 4.1 seconds left in the third quarter, gave the Pioneers their two-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
A Savanna Wood 3-pointer with 7:02 left in the game gave the Pioneers a 36-34 lead, their largest of the game.
"Holding them to three points in the third quarter -- that's how you get back into a game," Anderson said. "We took the lead late in the third and early in the fourth, but we ran out of gas."
The Pioneers would not score another point for the next 5:30 of the game. Watauga could not converted on its next five possessions, which allowed Freedom to go on a 9-0 run capped by two foul shots by Ariyana Williams.
That run, which gave Freedom (18-7) a 43-36 lead, was finally stopped by a Brooklin Carroll free throw. Freedom's Krissy Surratt scored the game's next two baskets to give the Patriots a 47-367 lead with 30.2 seconds left in the game and close the door on the Pioneers for good.
"Scoring takes legs and momentum and we had it," Anderson said. "We did a fantastic job, we just ran out of gas."
Williams, who made 7-of-8 free throws, led all scorers with 15 points. Surratt added 10 points and Amaryah Corpening added nine points for the Patriots.
Amy Rhoney grabbed 13 of Freedom's 40 rebounds. Watauga settled for 20 rebounds, five each from Loflin and Brooklin Carroll.
The Patriots held a considerable advantage from the free throw line. Watauga was just 2-of-7 from the line, while Freedom made 14-of-18 shots. Watauga was whistled for 16 fouls to
Loflin led the Pioneers with 11 points. Wood and Clare Harris, who each made three 3-point baskets, finished with nine points. Kaelin McNeill scored five more for the Pioneers.
The three players combined to make all of the Pioneers' seven 3-point shots.
Watauga looked like it would get blown out early after falling behind 19-5 by the end of the first quarter. Freedom took an 11-3 lead in the first, and Watauga had to settle for a Harris 3-point basket and a Tori Derrick two-pointer during that stretch.
Watauga started its comeback in the second quarter by scoring the first four points of the period. Watauga got another 3-pointer from Harris and trailed 28-20 by halftime.
"The start -- chalk it up a little bit to nerves and not having been in this situation before," Anderson said. "It's not like Freedom just jumped out of the gates, but they did enough to get a lead."
Watauga must wait to see who it will play in the first round of the state 4-A playoffs. The Pioneers, who finished second in the NWC's 4-A standings to South Caldwell despite beating the Spartans on back-to-back nights Monday and Tuesday, are a wildcard team and will play on the road in the first round.
Freedom girls 50, Watauga 39
Watauga 39 (9-17)
Wood 3 0-0 9, Derrick 1 0-0 2, Harris 3 0-0 9, Carroll 1 1-2 3, Loflin 5 1-5 11, McNeill 2 0-0 5, Farthing 0 0-0 0, Brown 0 0-0 0, Stapleton 0 0-0 0, Jones 0 0-0 0, Foutz 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 2-7 39.
Freedom 50 (18-7)
Corpening 3 3-4 9, Williams 3 7-8 15, Pearson 1 1-2 4, Yamouti 1 0-0 3, Mathes 0 1-2 1, Surratt 5 0-0 10, Rhoney 3 2-2 8, Gardin 0 0-0 0, Mills 0 0-0 0, Shelton 0 0-0 0, Camp 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 14-18 50.
Watauga 5 15 13 6 -- 39
Freedom 19 9 3 19 -- 50
3-point goals--Watauga 7 (Wood 3, Harris 3, McNeill), Freedom 4 (Williams 2, Pearson, Yamouti). Rebounds--Watauga 20 (Carroll, Loflin 5), Freedom 40 (Rhoney 13). Total fouls--Watauga 16, Freedom 9. Fouled out--Watauga, Derrick. Technical fouls--None.