RALEIGH — Middle Creek’s girls’ basketball team led Athens Drive just once and held onto that lead for a grand total of 86 seconds through three quarters of their Tri-9 affair Friday night.
And with all of 81 seconds left to be played, the Mustangs took the lead for a second time and never let it go.
Ashley Shenk’s four-point play with 1:41 remaining brought the Mustangs back from down two to up two, and they saw out a tight 43-40 win over the Jaguars that puts them into sole possession of third place in the conference.
“That’s a huge win for us,” said Middle Creek coach Wes Petty. “To drop down [early], whatever [the score] was, and to come back, hang in and pull through, I’m just really proud of the effort my kids put in.”
The Mustangs buried themselves early, falling behind 9-0. After just more than three minutes played, they had more missed shots (five), personal fouls (six) and turnovers (two) than points (zero), prompting Petty to call a timeout.
“When I called them over, I told them to let’s just settle in and go,” Petty said. “And they responded. We could’ve easily sunk our heads and gone away. But one thing my kids have is fight. So we came out swinging once that timeout was over, and we were ready to go. We played great and we beat a pretty good team tonight.”
Athens’ 2-3 zone contained Middle Creek forward Sydney Smith, the Mustang’s leading scorer. She finished with just three points (but was a menace on the glass with 11 rebounds). That opened up shots for teammates Attiana Miller (13 points), Brianna McCrimmon (nine points), Betsy Dohrer (eight) and Shenk (seven).
“Several times, we had kids hit key baskets at key moments – where they had a chance to stretch away a little bit and we’d hit a big shot,” Petty said.
Down 15-7 early in the second, McCrimmon and Miller hit a pair of 3s to trim the lead to 17-13 and give the Mustangs life.
With 5:07 left in the third, another Miller 3 gave the Mustangs a 21-20 lead, which they saw turn into a four-point deficit shortly thereafter. Athens’ Taylor Cesarski (13 points) hit a pair of 3s in less than a minute to give the Jaguars the lead, 27-23, and some offensive spark. Prior to that, Athens had gone nearly 10 minutes without a field goal.
“We just went through a lull and couldn’t snap out of it and put everything back together,” said Athens coach Dayna Jordan. “Tonight just wasn’t our night.”