Lady Vikings basketball hits the floor running with trio of games
Jamie Shell / (firstname.lastname@example.org)
AHS opened its season squaring off against rival Watauga, losing by the final score of 48-45 on Monday, Nov. 19. The Big Red traveled to Mitchell during the holiday weekend to play in the Unimin Harvest Hoops Tournament. AHS defeated R-S Central 66-58 on Friday, Nov. 23, but dropped a 53-37 decision to Cherokee on Saturday, Nov. 24.
The Lady Pioneers jumped out to an early 16-5 lead on the Big Red in its season opener at Lentz-Eggers Gym in Boone, but a 10-0 Lady Vikings run cut the margin to a single point at 16-15. WHS continued to play scrappy basketball and managed to take a 19-15 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Watauga opened up a 28-22 advantage midway through the third quarter before AHS scored the final four points of the period to claw to within 28-26 to open the final eight minutes of play.
The teams continued to battle nip-and-tuck deep into the final stanza. Avery gained its first lead of the contest at 32-30 with 6:48 remaining on the clock, but Watauga regrouped to build a 38-35 advantage with 3:42 left to play.
With just more than a minute left on the clock, Avery senior Kelsie Clarke drained a pair of free throws to draw the Big Red within a point at 41-40. The Lady Vikings defense made a stop and junior guard Bre Heaton connected on two free throws to give Avery a 42-41 lead.
WHS refused to fold in the final minute. The Pioneers struck back with a three-pointer from Savanna Wood to put Watauga in front 44-42 and electrified the partisan Watauga crowd with 46 seconds left. Avery’s Katie Rigdon stepped up for her team and gave the AHS fans reason to shout, answering the WHS basket with a three-pointer of her own to surge the Vikings to a 45-44 edge with 30 seconds left.
Avery seemed to have momentum when Watauga's Hannah Margolis missed a shot on the other end of the court. But Margolis saved the ball before it went out of bounds to teammate Danielle Welsh, who put the ball in the basket for a 46-45 Watauga lead with 11.1 seconds to go.
With the ensuing possession, Avery's Heaton was fouled, but was unable to connect on the front end of a one-and-one opportunity. Watauga rebounded the ball, was fouled and sank two free throws to escape with a narrow win.
Heaton led AHS with 15 points, with seven points and seven rebounds from junior post player Haley Woody.
"I felt we played hard, but just couldn't get our shots to fall. Watauga packed a zone on us and we got the shots we wanted, but we just couldn't get them to fall during the first half," Lady Vikings head coach Missy Lyons said. "We definitely learned a lot from the game and were able to watch film, which helped us a lot when we prepared for the Thanksgiving tournament."
AHS took on R-S Central in the opening game of tournament play. AHS opened a 21-13 lead after one period behind rebounding and a stifling press defense that gave fits to the Hilltopper guards. The Lady Vikings continued to put on the pressure and extended its margin to 38-25 at halftime.
The second half was more of the same, as Avery led by 18 points after three quarters at 53-35, and held off a late R-S rally to secure the eight-point victory.
"R-S Central was a very good team. They were a bit bigger than we are, but we did a much better job shooting the ball than in our last game. Shooting well is what it boils down to," Lyons added. "That seems to be the key for us, whether we're able to score the basketball."
Clarke led the Avery attack with 24 points in the win. Heaton added 16 points, with 10 from Lauren Burleson.
Avery took on a state playoff contender from last season in Cherokee, playing well through the first half. Cherokee looked similar to Avery on defense, as former Polk head coach Chris Mintz implemented the Avery defensive press in his defensive scheme. Avery had little trouble with the press, but again had difficulty putting the ball in the basket.
Despite its difficulties, Avery trailed by only five points at 28-23 at halftime. Cherokee took control to open the third quarter with an 11-2 scoring run, however, to build a double-digit lead that the Lady Vikings could never overcome.
"We couldn't get the shots to fall, as we shot just 30 percent for the game," Lyons explained. "We executed the offense much better than we did against Watauga, but they reached in a lot. The game was over in less than 60 minutes, which is the first time I've ever coached a game that ended that quickly. I feel like the officials didn't call a lot and kind of let everything go, but that was the way we had to play it."
Clarke paced the Vikings with eight points in the defeat.
Avery traveled to Ashe County earlier this week, and will play its home opener against West Wilkes this Friday, Nov. 30.