Few things are better than an undefeated season. Beating the last team that beat you is one of them.
Undefeated Hickory avenged its only loss of 2014 and used its ferocious, pressing defense to down defending state champion Chapel Hill, 71-53, Saturday in Carmichael Arena and claimed the 2015 N.C. High School Athletics Association 3A girls basketball title.
Game MVP Danasia Witherspoon led Hickory (27-0) with a game-high 20 points off 9-for-12 shooting from the field, but 6-0 Sadasia Tipps did the most damage to (24-3) Chapel Hill’s game with 20 rebounds to go with nine points. Yaz Hannah added 19 points and Ansley Rooks 12 for the Red Tornadoes.
“They just dominated the boards,” Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris said. “Tipps had 20 rebounds and we had 30 as a team. We’ve not played any other team this year that beat us that badly on the boards.”
Hickory finished with a 44-30 margin in rebounds. It scored 15 second-chance points to Chapel Hill’s eight second-chance points and took a 36-18 advantage on points in the paint.
Raziyah Farrington scored 19 points and Autumn West 10 for Chapel Hill.
Making its third visit to the state finals in five years and its seventh all-time, Hickory won its fourth title and its first since 1999.
Last year, Chapel Hill gave Hickory its only loss of the year, 69-56, and completed an undefeated (32-0) season by winning the 2014 3A state championship.
“I told the team before the game I wanted them to remember the bitter feeling they had at the end of that last game,” Hickory coach Barbara Helms said. “We worked our butts off to get back here.”
Chapel Hill matched the season-high for a points by a Hickory opponent, but was bothered every time it got into the paint by a cloying one-on-one press and on outside shots by the Red Tornadoes’ occasional 1-3-1 matchup zone.
“We never could get into an offensive flow, and that really hurt us,” Norris said.
Both teams favored a frantic tempo, resulting in 30 turnovers for each and a see-saw game for the first half. Both teams had more turnovers than field goals in the first two quarters.
But by game’s end, Hickory converted more turnovers than Chapel Hill (33 to 17).
Down by as much as six points in the second quarter, Hickory closed the first half with a 15-6 run to lead 36-31 at halftime. Witherspoon hit four of her first six shots for 10 points and made five steals in the first half.
The Red Tornadoes opened up a 55-43 lead after three quarters by hitting eight of their first 16 shots, all of them from the paint on layups or put-backs.
“We’ve been a great second-half team all year,” Helms said. “I reminded the team at halftime that they kicked it up a notch in the second half of this game last year. I told them that if they would kick up a notch this time, they would create that separation we needed to win.”