Drive to the basket

Watauga’s Brooke Byrd drives past Hickory’s Finley Lefevers and Aysha Short (25) in the second half of their game at Lentz-Eggers Gym. Byrd earned the Heart of a Champion award from the NCHSAA.

BOONE — The Watauga girls’ basketball team struggled with Hickory during the first two quarters of their Northwestern Conference showdown at Lentz-Eggers Gym on Feb. 10.

Watauga nearly made it all back. The Pioneers scored 25 points in the third quarter, which was more than double the points they scored in the first half, but it was not enough to catch the Red Tornadoes, who beat Watauga 50-48 on the Pioneers’ Senior Night.

Watauga (15-6, 8-3 NWC) closes out its regular season schedule Feb. 11 against undefeated Freedom. Should Watauga lose to Freedom and Hickory (16-5, 7-3) beat Alexander Central on Feb. 11, Watauga would slip into third place in the final NWC standings, while Hickory would finish second.

The result of Watauga’s game at Freedom was not known as of press time.

Neither team looked much like they were battling for second place in the conference after the Tornadoes inched to a 7-5 lead. Hickory outscored Watauga 20-6 in the second quarter to take a 27-11 lead on the Pioneers.

But Watauga behind the inside scoring of Chelsi Hodges and additional scoring from Brooke Byrd and Brelyn Sturgill from the outside helped the Pioneers make a run. Hodges scored eight of her 15 points in the third quarter, while Byrd scored seven of her 11 points in the third. Sturgill, who finished the game with seven points, hit two 3-point baskets in the quarter.

“We didn’t run stuff for her,” Watauga coach Laura Barry said of Hodges. “She got her points off the boards. It’s really great to see her make an impact off the offensive rebounds.”

Watauga, trailing 43-36, opened the fourth quarter with a 6-1 run that brought the Pioneers to within 44-42. Hickory never relinquished the lead, but never led by more than three points, including a 50-47 advantage late in the game.

“We were resilient in the second half,” Barry said. “We played super hard. We didn’t hit many shots in the first half.”

A Sturgill foul shot cut Hickory’s lead to 50-48 inside a minute. A Hickory offensive foul gave the Pioneers the ball back with 42.9 seconds left, but the Pioneers missed their final three shots, including one that was blocked by the Tornadoes’ 6-foot-5 Shelby Darden inside of 10 seconds left in the game.

Hickory’s other 6-5 player, Kellen Morin, did not play.

“We dug a hole at the start,” Barry said. “I liked our fight. We cut it to one a couple of times, but credit to Hickory. They came in here on the road and made their free throws. They did a good job staying poised against our pressure.”

Watauga’s starting lineup consisted of all seniors led by regular starters Byrd, Taylor Lipford, Rebekah Farthing, Molly Ward and Cora Lubsen. Byrd, a four-year starter with the Pioneers, finished with 11 points.

Farthing, another four-year starter, had six points. Lipford finished with a 3-point basket, Ward had four points and Lubsen did not score.

Aysha Short led the Red Tornadoes with 13 points.

Hickory girls 50, Watauga 48

Hickory 50 (16-5, 7-3 NWC)

Soublet 2 2-3 6, James 5 0-0 10, Wood 1 2-2 4, Short 4 0-0 13, Lefevers 1 7-10 9, Darden 2 4-4 8, Rumbaugh 0 0-0 0, Everly 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 15-19 50.

Watauga 48 (15-6, 8-3 NWC)

Byrd 3 2-3 11, Sturgill 2 1-2 7, R. Farthing 3 0-0 6, Ward 2 0-3 4, Williamson 1 0-0 2, Lipford 1 0-0 3, Hodges 7 1-5 15, Reece 0 0-0 0, Keller 0 0-0 0, Lubsen 0 0-0 0, Scheffler 0 0-0 0, Pruess 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 4-13 48.

Hickory 7 20 16 7 — 50

Watauga 5 6 25 12 — 48

3-point goals—Hickory 3 (Short 3), Watauga 4 (Sturgill 2, Byrd, Lipford). Total fouls—Hickory 13, Watauga 14. Fouled out—None. Technical fouls—None.

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