First the good news, Watauga High senior Savanna Wood, who suffered a concussion-like injury Wednesday night at South Caldwell, was back in the line up on Friday. Now the bad news. St. Stephens snapped its nine-game losing streak against Watauga.
The Indians (9-9 overall; 4-4 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference), who last beat WHS in 2009-10, defeated the Pioneers 53-51 at home in a NW3A/4A Conference game. And the Pioneers (5-13; 3-5) made a huge turnover with 3.1 seconds left that cost them the game.
With the game tied at 51-51, Autumn Williams picked off Kaelin McNeill's inbound pass, was fouled by McNeill and she nailed the game-winning free throws with two seconds to go.
"We just made too many mitakes down the stretch to win this game," said WHS coach Klay Anderson in a firm tone. "We had this game in hand, but St. Stephens made the big plays when they had to. That inbounds pass was a big mistake, and it gave them the game."
It was a disappointing loss for the Pioneers, who have dropped four in a row. And the setback leaves WHS in a fifth-place tie with Patton in the NW3A/4A Conference standings (and the Panthers won the tie-breaker) with six games left in the regular season.
"We really wanted this game," Anderson said. "Our goal is to finish in the upper division of the conference standings. That would guarantee us a first-round game in the conference tournament (which begins February 17). But (St. Stephens) has really improved from last season. They're playing with more confidence right now."
But the play that really hurt WHS occurred late in the fourth quarter. Trailing 49-47 following a time out with 1:02 to play, the Indians were allowed to inbound the ball before the Pioneers stepped on the floor. The end result, Keyona Hicks nailed an uncontested layup that tied the game.
"Referees are here to do one thing, and that's to officiate the game," Anderson said. "The rule says, they're suppose to approach your huddle to inform you to get back on the floor, whether they blow the horn or not. No official came into our huddle, but I take full responsibility. But they have to do their job, and we've got to do ours."
"The officials called the game that way all night for both of us," said St. Stephens coach Betsy Reynolds. "They were like that all night. They kept telling us to get our teams on the floor. I guess I wasn't surprised when they allowed us to throw it in. It's just one of those things that usually doesn't happen at the end of the game. It could have gone either way."
But despite that call, the Pioneers still had an opportunity to win the game. Wood hit two free throws that gave the Pioneers a 51-49 lead with 39 seconds left. But Hicks buried a pair of free throws that tied the game at 51 nine second later, setting the stage for Friday night's dramatic finish.
"We made our free throws in the second half," Reynolds said. "We missed too many free throws (9-18) in the first half. It's kind of ironic how we made those free throws at the end of the game."
Ironic indeed. Remember, the Indians missed four free throws down the stretch in their first meeting (a 37-36 loss) against the Pioneers at Lentz-Eggers Gym that cost them the game (on December 17). The Indians were 7-8 at the foul line in the second half; 4-4 in the final minute of the game.
And the game was tightly contested. There were 11 ties on Friday night, and neither team led by more than six points. Wood and Ryan Loflin, who made the game-tying bucket to make it 47-47, led three WHS players in double figures with 12 points apiece. McNeill, who gave WHS its 49-47 lead, had ten points. Kylea Cooper led the Indians with a game-high 14 points, ten of those in the second half; Hicks had 13.
"We put ourselves in a position to win the game," Anderson said. "But we couldn't close the deal. They made the plays down the stretch, and they won the game. It's as simple as that."
The Pioneers begin a two-game home stand against Fred T. Foard Tuesday night. Coverage begins at 6:05 p.m. on Classic Hits 100.7 FM and GoBlueridge.net.
NOTES: St. Stephens defeated the WHS junior varsity girls, 39-36. Olivia Williamson and Karson Hamrick led WHS with eight points apiece....The WHS JV boys defeated St. Stephens, 50-21. Jeremy Ringlee led WHS with 13 points; Caleb Bryson had nine points, and Jerron Mills had six.
ST. STEPHENS 53, WATAUGA 51
SCORE BY PERIOD 1 2 3 4 TOTAL
WATAUGA HIGH 9 12 19 11 - 51
ST. STEPHENS HIGH 6 14 23 10 - 53
WHS: MILLSAPS 4, WOOD 12, DERRICK 5, CARROLL 1, LOFLIN 12, FARTHING 2, McNEILL 10, JONES 2, FOUTZ 3. FG: 15, 3FG: 4, FT: 9-14.
STS: KERLEY 4, KILLIAN 7, WILLIAMS 8, COOPER 14, HICKS 13, JONES 3, McMAHON 4. FG: 14, 3FG: 3, FT: 16-26.
ST. STEPHENS BOYS 69, WATAUGA 63
Let's face it, the Watauga High boy's basketball team just can't beat St. Stephens.
WHS suffered its eighth consecutive against the Indians Friday night. St. Stephens took control from the second quarter on and beat the Pioneers, 69-63.
The loss drops WHS (12-6 overall; 3-5 Northwestern 3A/4A Conference) into sixth place tie with Hibriten in the NW3A/4A Conference. In turn, the Indians (12-6); 4-4), who led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, sweep the season series against the Pioneers. WHS also lost its fourth straight game at St. Stephens.
"That's why it's so important to protect your home floor in this league," WHS coach Rob Sanders said. "It is so tough to win on the road. I was proud of the way we came back. T.J. (Poulos) and Cameron (Baker) were responsible for that comeback. Without their intensity, we don't come back like we did."
Baker, who fouled out for the second time this season against the Indians, finished with nine points before he left the game with three minutes to play. He picked up a technical foul following his monster dunk in the third quarter that ignited WHS' comeback. Poulos, playing for point guard Eli Gailes, who was on the bench with four fouls, poured in a season-high 16 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists.
"Cameron was really fired up and he tried to fire up his team," Sanders said. "I didn't agree with the call. He wasn't taunting anybody. He just wanted to rally his team."
"Poulos and Baker really got them going," said St. Stephens coach Murphy Post, who is 6-0 lifetime against the Pioneers. "(Poulos) kept attacking the rim and they took control. The game turned into a track meet. They sped us up and they rushed us into turnovers. It got close at the end, but we were able to hang on."
A pair of threes by Chris Hefner, who finished with a game-high 19 points, kept the Pioneers at bay. His final trifecta gave the Indians a 60-52 lead.
"Chris is an excellent outside shooter, especially when he's uncontested," Post said. "He got open and we got him the ball. Those were big shots. But to Watauga's credit, they never let up. They kept coming at us."
The Pioneers chipped away and eventually tied the game with 1:34 left to play. Jay Harrill's bucket tied the game at 63, capping off an 11-3 run by the Pioneers.
"We just can't seem to score enough points in this building," Sanders said. "We shot the ball terribly tonight, but we turned up the pressure and came back. That shows the character of this team. And T.J. played great. He just took over, and he was playing so well. I just decided to leave him in the game.
"But when you fall behind like we did tonight, you have to gamble on defense hoping to create turnovers. In turn, you give up a lot of easy layups and clean looks."
And that's exactly what happened. A pair of turnovers led to a pair of transition baskets by Cameron Corpening and Hefner that gave the Indians a 67-63 lead with 47 seconds left.
"We just ran out of gas," Sanders said. "That's why I called that last time out (with less than 30 seconds to play), so we could catch our breath. It's a tough loss, but we have to regroup. We've got two huge games coming up next week at home. And like the rest of them, they're must wins."
Corpening finished with 16 points, and Marcus Conner, who nailed the clinching free throws with 9.1 seconds left, finished with 15 points. Matt Lambert and Harrill each had ten points and six rebounds apiece for the Pioneers. Trevor Eggers finished with nine points.
The Pioneers kick-off a two-game home stand against Fred T. Foard Tuesday night; Freedom comes to town Friday night. Coverage begins at 6:05 p.m. Tuesday night on Classic Hits 100.7 FM and GoBlueridge.net.
ST. STEPHENS 69, WATAUGA 63
SCORE BY PERIODS 1 2 3 4 TOTAL
WATAUGA HIGH 13 11 14 15 - 63
ST. STEPHENS HIGH 12 18 16 23 - 69
WHS: HARRILL 10 (6 REBOUNDS), EGGERS 9, POULOS 16 (7 REBOUNDS, 6 ASSISTS), DOBBINS 2 (7 REBOUNDS, 3 STEALS), JONES 3, EBAUGH 4, BAKER 9, LAMBERT 10 (6 REBOUNDS), FG: 23, 3FG: 2, FT: 11-17.
STS: CORPENING 16, HEFNER 19, McGINNIS 6, IJAMES 5, LINNY 2, BEASLEY 4, JENKINS 2, CONNER 15. FG: 16, 3FG: 7, FT: 16-25.
NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE
Freedom 61, Fred T. Foard 22
Hickory 79, Patton 58
St. Stephens 53, Watauga 51
S. Caldwell 55, Hibriten 23
Freedom 73, Fred T. Foard 63
Hibriten 71, S. Caldwell 49
Hickory 61, Patton 55
St. Stephens 69, Watauga 63