By MICHAEL HUGHES
DENVER –– Lincoln Charter’s highlight-filled girls basketball season came to a close with Friday’s third-round loss to Hayesville in the NCHSAA state 1A playoffs.
The sixth-seeded Yellow Jackets blew past the second-seeded Eagles, regular season champions of the Southern Piedmont 1A Conference, 68-37.
Hayesville, regular season runner-up and tournament champion of the Big Smoky Mountain 1A Conference, held the host team without a point for almost six minutes of the first quarter. The Yellow Jackets started well and finished stronger, outscoring Lincoln Charter 24-4 in the fourth quarter to advance to this week’s regional semifinals against league rival Cherokee, the BSMC’s regular-season winner.
“They’ve been there before; we haven’t been there before,” said Eagles coach Franklin Lowery of the visitors’ experience and deep tradition.
Hayesville (27-3) also brought a large and loud cheering section that drove 200 miles to fill almost half of the one-sided bleachers.
“They gave their all,” Lowery said of his charged-up team, which never sagged as the deficit grew in the late-going. “We ran into a team that was well-coached and well-disciplined. It still hurts, but I’m so proud of (my girls).
“I feel so bad for Victoria (Cobb),” Lowery said of Lincoln Charter’s 6-foot-1 center and the team’s only senior.
Down 16-4 after one quarter, the Eagles (23-3) were sparked by freshman Eboni Tinsley off the bench. Tinsley’s defense and playmaking ignited a 15-point run in the second period as the hosts went into locker room down 26-19.
The teams traded baskets in the third quarter, which ended with a line-drive 3-pointer from midcourt by Lincoln Charter’s Madelyn Holmes, which just beat the horn.
But the Eagles were unable to sustain momentum in the fourth quarter. Hayesville forward Meghan McQuade (21 points) continued her torrid perimeter shooting with her third and fourth 3-pointers of the second half as the Yellow Jackets pulled away.
“(McQuade was hot) because we didn’t get out on her,” Lowery said. “(Hayesville is) a team that knows how to move the basketball. They have great depth.
“We’ll get there.”
Junior guard Stephanie Patton (18 points) also had a hot hand for Hayesville, and junior wing Amanda Thompson scored eight of her 14 in the second quarter to keep her team in front early on.
Lincoln Charter sophomore Ashley Balch came off the bench to score seven of her team-leading nine points in the second quarter flow.
“I thank the girls for their effort,” said Lowery of his team’s hard work throughout the season, and for never quitting in Friday’s uphill struggle. “(We knew it’d be tough), going from a charter school conference to a (state) conference” this basketball season.
If everyone returns, the Eagles will have 10 veterans and four starters back next season from a year in which they won their first NCHSAA conference title, made their first NCHSAA state playoff appearance and set a school record for wins.