By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
MANTACHIE – The Walnut High girls basketball team had to make things interesting before advancing to the semifinals of the Division 1-2A Tournament.
The Lady Wildcats defeated tournament host Mantachie 62-55 on Wednesday night, but the final outcome shouldn’t have been that close.
Walnut made 10 of 28 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter and was 20 for 43 for the game.
“Yeah, our free-throw shooting was not very good going down the stretch,” said Walnut head coach Larry Tribble. “Thank goodness it worked out that we were able to make just enough of them to finish the game.”
The Lady Wildcats improved to 16-8 on the year – pretty amazing considering that they struggled dearly with their free-throw shooting in nearly half of those games – and advanced to play Hickory Flat in today’s 4 p.m. semifinal at Mantachie High School.
“Our free-throw shooting has been one of those things that has come and gone all year long,” Tribble said. “I’m hoping that’s just youth. We got a lot of young kids that we count on.”
The Lady Mustangs, on the other hand, are another young team in the eyes of its head coach Noah Hamilton. They were able to battle back from an 11-point deficit halfway through the third quarter to pull within three, 41-38, at the end of the period.
Katlyn Carpenter hit two 3-pointers during that Mantachie run. She finished with 10 points.
“It’s a two-seed against a seventh-seed, so we’re not even supposed to be in the game,” said Hamilton, whose team ended its season at 9-18. “I thought we played really well defensively. I thought we handled the (defensive) pressure a lot better than we had.
“I thought we put ourselves in position to win the game there at the end, and we couldn’t cash in. They missed free throws and we just couldn’t score. That killed us.”
Hamilton said the majority of his team playing on Wednesday night had a year of varsity playing experience or less.
“We were in every game this year,” he said. “We put ourselves in a good place tonight and just couldn’t do it.”
After trailing by nine points halfway through the fourth quarter, Hannah McFerrin’s two free throws would pull the Lady Mustangs to within three, 56-53, with 2:05 remaining in the contest. But three points was the closest Mantachie would get the rest of the way.
McFerrin led Mantachie with 12 points.
Presley Pulse (17), Rebecca Robinson (16) and Olivia Robinson (10) led Walnut.
(B) Ashland 65,
East Union 45
Darius Dukes said he felt it in the second quarter.
The Ashland sophomore drained four 3-pointers, including being fouled on one of the makes, in the second period to help give his team a commanding 37-19 halftime lead over East Union on Wednesday night.
Fortunately for Dukes, he didn’t have to be relied upon too heavily in the second half – even when his team’s lead was cut to 10 points in the fourth quarter – as the Blue Devils poured it on in the end to win 65-45 in a Division 1-2A Tournament first-round game.
“I just felt it, just felt it,” said Dukes, who scored 19 of his game-high 22 points in the first half. “My teammates kept getting it (the ball) to me, so I just tried to do what’s good for the team by making a couple of baskets.”
Up next for the Blue Devils (15-12) is Hickory Flat in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. today.
East Union ended its season at 9-16.
(B) New Site 90, Walnut 36
The Royals led 28-6 after the first quarter and 57-14 at halftime en route to a blowout first-round win. The win sets up a rematch with Baldwyn in the semifinals at 8:30 tonight.
New Site upset Baldwyn in last year’s tournament.
Tyson Frederick (19), Austin Caveness (16), Rusty Croft (11) and Cody Taylor (10) all were in double figures in points for New Site (16-10).
Dominic Steele had 15 for the Wildcats (2-20).