BOONE — With just over two minutes left in the fourth, Watauga girls basketball was only down four points, 53-49, to 15-0 Freedom, who was ranked No. 1 in the state’s 3A classification going into the game.
However, the Pioneers (10-6, 4-3 Northwestern Conference) went cold down the stretch as the Patriots (16-0, 6-0 Northwestern Conference) took home a 62-49 victory on Friday, Jan. 17, at Lentz-Eggers Gym.
“We know they’re a great team and have a weapon at every position,” Watauga coach Laura Barry said after the game. “Down the stretch I think their pressure really bothered us ... at the end of the day, we had to execute against that pressure and it was difficult for us.”
“I’d like a fifth quarter against them,” Barry added.
The game started hot for Watauga, as Brooke Byrd and Rebekah Farthing helped the Pioneers jump out 12-3 in the first five minutes before Freedom took a timeout.
“I think the fact that you saw everyone being aggressive, not just to score but play-make was huge for us,” Barry said. “That’s the best I’ve seen us come out ... you could almost see it on Freedom’s face ‘what are we going to do?’”
After catching their breath, the Patriots went on a run late in the first, cutting the deficit to 15-13 by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter saw both teams continue to score, but with Chelsi Hodges down low, the Pioneers took a surprise 30-29 lead into halftime.
The start of the third quarter saw the lead change hands, but then the Patriots took over. Using turnovers and transition offense, Freedom went on a 10-4 run in the last four minutes of the third to going up 49-42 heading into the final frame. Overall, Watauga committed 22 turnovers to Freedom’s 10.
“I think some of our passing led to points for them,” Barry said.
Using some tough defense and smart offensive possessions, Watauga chipped at the score in the first part of the fourth quarter, giving the capacity home crowd reason to believe the upset was on.
Between 4:29 and 2:07 left, both teams traded missed shots and turnovers, unable to break the ice.
A big moment came when Freedom’s Blaikley Crooks drove to the basket and Brelyn Sturgill stepped in front of her trying to take a charge. Both players crashed into each other and all eyes turned to the ref as both players had four fouls. The official made the motion for a block, giving Freedom the free throws and ending Sturgill’s night.
The Pioneers were unable to score again, as Byrd was unable to find the bottom of the net and Freedom were able to, including from the foul line, to improve to 16-0.
For Watauga, Byrd led all scorers with 19 points, Hodges put in 14 and Farthing added 10.
“After (Byrd’s) first half, they went to face guard her in the third quarter,” Barry said of Byrd’s effort. “I love what she’s bringing this year, tonight she showed off what she can do on defense.”
Crooks led Freedom with 17 points, with Jayda Glass adding 13, including a trifecta of 3-pointers, Josie Hise contributed 12 points and Adair Garrison got 10.
Watauga returns to Lentz-Eggers Gym on Wednesday, Jan. 22, as the Pioneers face non-conference opponent East Surry before heading into the back half of the league schedule.
“Looking at the second half of conference, it’s six teams we can see again, I hope you see a mature Watauga team,” Barry said.