February 25, 2010

Lady Hurricanes beat Manteo at home in second round of state playoffs


In sports, there are the games that you lose, there are the games that you win, and then, there are the games in which you triumph.

It was a fight from the first whistle to the final buzzer, but when it was all said and done—after 32 minutes of heart-pumping, gut-wrenching, nerve-shattering play —it was the Lady Canes who had come out on top, beating the Lady Redskins by one point, 56-55.  

The Lady Canes knew going into it that this would be a tough game.  The Redskins and the Hurricanes had met twice earlier in the season, and both times, the Redskins had handed the Hurricanes a loss. On top of that, according to Head Coach Earl Fountain, the Redskins were a quicker team than the Hurricanes—an area where they are very seldom bested.

And for the first half of the first quarter, Manteo looked every bit the favorite. They took the first possession, they put the first points on the board, they out-rebounded the Canes two-to-one, and while the Hurricanes struggled to get something going offensively, the Redskins cut through their zone press like a hot knife through butter.

Fountain subbed junior Jessea Midgett for senior Tori Ballance early in the first quarter, and Midgett banked the first bucket of the game for the Canes—an under-the-basket shot off one of the Canes’ first offensive rebounds.

Midgett’s basket was followed by a three from senior Lauren Randall, which seemed to swing some momentum the Canes’ way. They began to settle into their zone defense—a defense that, according to Fountain, they had only run once or twice during the season—and they started to come to life on offense.

When senior Paxton Gwin sank a three, four minutes into the quarter, the Canes took the lead. Seconds later, she stole the ball, drove to the basket, drew a foul, and sank both of her free throws.

Gwin continued to carry her team offensively, scoring all but five of the Canes’ first quarter points, and by the end of the quarter, they were ahead of the Redskins 17-11.

But, the Redskins weren’t about to give up that easily.  They started the second quarter off with a vengeance, forcing turnovers and dominating the boards. However, they struggled from both the perimeter and the free throw line, and the Canes’ tight zone was shutting off the lane.

By the end of the second quarter, the Canes had hit a groove. Gwin was on fire from the perimeter, and sophomore Maggie Easley and junior Molly Clever were getting more and more aggressive in the paint.

Even after a series of missed lay-ups and unnecessary fouls gave the Redskins an opportunity to stage a comeback late in the quarter, the Hurricanes still ended the half with a 32-26 lead.

But anyone who thought the Redskins were ready to throw in the towel was quickly proven wrong. They stepped up their perimeter game and started sinking more of their foul shots, and late in the third quarter, they capitalized on several Hurricane turnovers and missed shot opportunities, going on a 6-point tear that brought them within one point of the Canes.

It remained an extremely close game for most of the fourth quarter, and with 2:17 left to play, Manteo’s Amanda Daniels sank a three-pointer that tied it up.

It was the first time since the early minutes of the first quarter that the Canes hadn’t held the lead.

Seconds later, Easley went to the line. She sank both her free throws, which gave the Canes a two point lead. Midgett followed with a long jumper that put the crowd on their feet and the Canes up by four.
The Manteo girls answered with a jumper of their own.

With one minute left and the Canes up by two, Fountain called a time-out. When the girls came back on the floor, it was clear they were going to try to run down the clock, waiting until the final seconds to take the last shot.

Manteo had other plans.

One of the Redskins picked off a Hurricane pass and drove down to the basket for an easy, unguarded lay-up that tied the game with 35 seconds left to play.

The Hurricanes held onto the ball, again trying to ensure that they got off the last shot of the game.

For 25 seconds—that seemed like 25 minutes—the Canes passed the ball around, effectively playing monkey-in-the-middle with Manteo’s defenders, and in an effort to steal the ball, one of them fouled Randall.

With 10.8 seconds left in a tied ballgame—and not just any tied ballgame, a tied playoff game, against a rival school, that had already beaten them twice—Lauren Randall stepped up to the free throw line for her two shots. 

No pressure, right?

By this time, everyone in the stands was on his or her feet. Manteo fans were making noise in an effort to distract her. Hurricane fans erupted into a wild roar after her first free throw hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

After her second shot bounced off the rim, it fell into Manteo’s hands, and they tried furiously to get to the basket before it was too late. Hatteras, on the other hand, tried furiously to stop them, while being careful not to foul.

With 1.2 seconds remaining, one of Manteo’s players stepped out of bounds while fighting for the ball under the basket. All the Hurricanes had to do was get the ball safely inbounds and hold on to it for less than two seconds.

And they did.

I think it’s safe to say that the crowd went wild. The stands emptied out onto the court, everyone huddling around the players, all of them hugging, chanting, cheering, and celebrating what was a very hard-fought victory for the Lady Hurricanes.

The Lady Hurricanes will play again on Friday night, February 26, at home, in the Sectional Finals of the NCHSAA State Playoffs. The game begins at 7 p.m.


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