Oh so close!Tuscola edged out by a point in final second of NCHSAA 3-A Girls West Regional final
GREENSBORO — The magical, historical postseason run came to a heartbreaking end for the Tuscola girls’ basketball team after its tough 51-50 loss to Charlotte Harding in the Class 3-A West Regional final on Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum Annex.
The Mountaineers, which ended their season with a 23-7 overall record, were outscored 29-17 in the second half as Harding rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to go back to the state championship for the second straight season.
“The game got a lot more physical in the second half and they were able to get a lot more shots off,” said Tuscola Head Coach Ann Gardner. “But our kids battled and they battled the whole time. We don’t normally see that physicality where we’re from. We just couldn’t get some shots to fall when we needed them to fall.”
The ride to the regional final, which was the deepest postseason run in school history, concludes a magical season for the Mountaineers.
Tuscola, a No. 4 seed in the West region, rolled through the state playoffs, winning four straight, including a revenge win over Franklin in the regional semifinals.
“This is a special group of young ladies,” said Gardner. “They’ve continued to battle all year. They made up their mind that they wanted to make a run and we did. It was a great season. To be here and to go as far as we did, I can’t be more pleased with our kids.”
Shelby Tricoli was the only Mountaineer to score in double figures, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Taylor Gibson and Alex Swanger finished with seven points each, while Jasmine Duncan and Peyton Fisher each had seven in the loss.
Tuscola held a 44-42 lead heading into the fourth quarter before being outscored 9-6 in the final period. The Mountaineers were held without a field goal for the final 7:58 of the contest, scoring their only basket with two seconds left when Gibson buried a three-pointer from the top of the key.
After leading 16-15 at the conclusion of the first quarter, the Mountaineers opened the second period on a 15-5 run to build a 10-point lead. Tricoli’s layup gave the Mountaineers a 28-18 lead with 2:43 remaining in the half.
Harding’s Myicha Drakeford scored a bucket inside to trim the lead back to single digits before the Mountaineers answered with five straight points to build a 33-20 lead thanks to a bucket from Tristan Woodall with 59 seconds left in the quarter.
Harding’s Ralisha Currence scored a late layup with 15 seconds remaining in the first half to make it 33-22, which would be the score at halftime.
In the first half, the Mountaineers shot 42.4 percent on 14 of 33 from the floor and limited the Lady Rams to just 30.3 percent shooting on 10 of 33.
The Lady Rams clamped down defensively and got a lot more physical in the second half, forcing the Mountaineers to nine turnovers in the final two quarters.
After scoring the first four points of the second half to get back within seven, Tricoli buried a three-pointer that hit every part of the cylinder before rolling in to push the Mountaineers back to a double-digit lead at 36-26.
The Rams answered with a 16-4 run, capped by a Currence jumper gave Harding a 42-40 advantage with under two minutes to play in the quarter.
Tuscola tied the game thanks to a put-back by Gibson with under a minute to play. With 26.1 ticks left in the quarter, Harding’s Abrea Harris was whistled for a technical foul and Gibson sank both free throws to help Tuscola close out the period with a 44-42 lead.
For the first 7:51 of the fourth quarter, the Rams had outscored the Mountaineers 9-3 to build a 51-47 lead thanks to a free throw from Keousha Griffin. The Mountaineers struggled to find the net in the fourth period, scoring half of their points from the charity stripe.
As time expired, Gibson buried a three-pointer for the Mountaineers’ only field goal of the period.
“I think we made some passes that we probably shouldn’t have made in that second half,” said Gibson. “I also think we rushed things a little bit and our shots just didn’t fall.”
The Mountaineers hit just five field goals in the second half, shooting 20.8 percent on 5 of 24 from the floor. In contrast, the Lady Rams were 12 of 30 from the floor in the second half for 40 percent.
Harding, the defending 3A state champions, will go back to the state championship game where Harding will battle Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon in Raleigh.
Harris, who finished with a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds, led the Rams back to the state title game.
“This one took a lot more dedication, and a lot more heart,” said Harris, named the Western Regional’s most valuable player. “Last year, we won by 20 points (over Hickory). This year, it could’ve gone either way.”
Despite not getting the outcome they wanted, the Mountaineers aren’t hanging their heads about the game or how the season ended.
“It was a great season and this is a great group of girls,” said Tricoli. “I wouldn’t ask for anyone else and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”