By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– Franklin Lowery’s duties as a pastor come before his duties as Lincoln Charter’s head girls basketball coach. So when the Eagles lost to Bessemer City last week in the conference tournament championship, his absence on their sideline was magnified.
Facing the same team in the second round of the state playoffs, Lowery didn’t budge. And this time, neither did the Eagles.
Victoria Cobb had 13 points and poured in 16 rebounds as Lincoln Charter rolled to a 55-33 win over the Yellow Jackets in the second round of the NCHSAA state 1A basketball playoffs on Wednesday.
The second-seeded Eagles (23-2) will host No. 6 Hayesville, a 68-53 winner over third-seeded Hiawassee Dam, in a third round game at 7 p.m. today.
The rout of Bessemer City came five days after Lincoln Charter dropped its first and only game this season to a league opponent –– the Yellow Jackets –– in the championship game of the Southern Piedmont 1A Conference tournament. Lowery left early in the 45-41 loss to reprise his role as a Christian minister, and his players left plenty of opportunities on the floor.
On Wednesday, the Eagles left nothing to chance.
“As I tell the girls, ministry’s first (and) I have things that I have to do; I hated to leave, but I felt like I left them in the hands of assistant coaches who were able,” Lowery said. “If you look at it, we were right there. In the last minute we missed six free throws, we threw the ball away and missed a couple layups. … I told them we would be here, and we were going to let (Bessemer City) know that we beat ourselves there. They won, but we beat ourselves more than anything.
“It was good for them. (Bessemer City) had to come here, but now they’re going home.”
The Yellow Jackets (18-9), who had their nine-game winning streak snapped, went tit-for-tat with the host school through the first eight minutes.
Then they lost their sting.
Tierra Damelon closed the first quarter with a 3-pointer for a 10-all tie, but Bessemer City missed its next 20 shots, including going 0 for 17 in a scoreless second quarter.
Lincoln Charter didn’t fare much better in the period, hitting just three of its nine field goal attempts, but seven points were better than zero, and the Eagles never looked back.
“The shots weren’t falling tonight,” Yellow Jackets coach J.J. Stamey said. “We’ve been on a nine-game winning streak (and) there’s going to be a time that the shots just are not going to fall, and it had to be tonight.”
Madison Carter had a team-high 11 points, and her 3 at the 5:49 mark of the third period ended a field goal drought of more than 10 minutes for Bessemer City. Tierra Damelon added 10 points and Miata Roberts had a team-best nine rebounds for the Jackets. Roberts was ejected with 5:42 to play for shoving a Lincoln Charter player after being whistled for a foul.
Madi Neesmith had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Lincoln Charter, which outscored Bessemer City 45-23 after the first quarter and held it to 9-for-60 shooting –– 15 percent –– for the game.
“Defense wins championships, and that’s what we stress,” Lowery said. “Offensively we’re OK. We can score, but our defense can be our best offensive weapon.”
The trip to the third round is the farthest the Eagles have been in the postseason. This is also their inaugural appearance in the NCHSAA state playoffs.
“The girls have heart. They came out and they played,” Lowery said. “They’re young, but they’re learning. Now we’ll see what happens on Friday.”
What happens today is Lincoln Charter gets a team that has won six straight and is 26-3 on the year.
Hayesville, which shares a moniker with Bessemer City, finished second to 1A West overall No. 1 Cherokee in the Smoky Mountain 1A Athletic Conference. The Yellow Jackets beat Cherokee 55-49 in the conference tournament championship, and haven’t lost since falling 64-42 to 3A and one-loss Canton Pisgah on Feb. 8.
Lowery knows his team has its hands full tonight, but is up for the challenge.