CHERRYVILLE –– Second-seeded Bessemer City downed top-seed Lincoln Charter, 45-41, in the finals of the Southern Piedmont 1A Conference tournament, handing the Eagles (21-2) their first league loss of the season.
The win marked the Yellow Jackets’ first conference basketball crown for varsity girls in 58 years.
“We won the championship, the first one since 1956,” Bessemer City coach J.J. Stamey said.
With Bessemer City (17-8) up by three in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, Lincoln Charter had possession with a last chance to tie, but freshman guard Kali Snider’s hurried 3-pointer from the right wing was off the mark. Yellow Jackets senior Mista Roberts corralled the rebound and was quickly fouled with 1.9 ticks on the game clock.
Roberts made 1 of 2 free throws for the final four-point margin.
Slowing the tempo made the difference after losing twice to Lincoln Charter during the regular season, Stamey said.
“We set the speed and kept it that way, because we knew we couldn’t run the way they were running,” he said. “We can’t run up and down the floor, so we had to set the tone.
“It came down to clutch free throws. It finally came together.”
Ahead by a point at halftime, Bessemer City stayed patient in a low-scoring third quarter and ended the period holding a 28-25 advantage. Both teams picked up the scoring in the fourth, with the Yellow Jackets hitting several contested shots underneath and in transition.
A high-arching 3-pointer from the corner by junior Anjala Brewton pushed the Jackets’ lead to seven less than three minutes into the last quarter.
“It was clutch all the way,” said Stamey of key fourth-quarter buckets by senior Madison Carter and sophomore Tierra Dameron after Lincoln Charter made a late-game run.
“They made (their shots) when it counted. They were ready to play.
“I told them, ‘You’ve got to play all four quarters of basketball,’ and that’s what we did.”
A late steal by Dameron preceded two successful free throws with 15 seconds to play, after she had missed a pair moments earlier.
The three-point lead set up the Eagles’ last chance to send the game into overtime.
“We just weren’t ready to play,” said Lincoln Charter assistant Dedra LaGrange, who took over, along with assistant Carl Lykes, for head coach and Christian minister Franklin Lowery, who left early for a pre-scheduled church function.
It was “too many turnovers,” LaGrange said. “And we missed six free throws in the fourth quarter. They made their free throws (with the game on the line).”
Carter scored nine of her game-high 14 points in the decisive second half. Junior guard Caitlyn Miller scored 11 for the Eagles.
Both teams will continue play in the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs, which begin today. Lincoln Charter drew a 2-seed on Saturday and will host SP1A foe and No. 15 Highland Tech at 7 p.m. The Yellow Jackets were seeded seventh and host No. 10 Nantahala (11-10) tonight.
If the Eagles and Bessemer City win their first round games, then they will meet in the second round on Wednesday in Denver –– the fourth meeting of the season between the two.
“We’ll rebound (from this),” LaGrange said with assurance.
Stamey also expects his team to keep improving.
“Get even better,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”