FAYETTEVILLE — West Craven thought it had an upset against undefeated Chapel Hill on ice Saturday in the N.C. High School Athletics Association playoffs. But the top-seeded Tigers slipped away with a 46-44 victory and the 3A East Regional girls’ championship.
Chapel Hill (31-0) will advance to the NCHSAA 3A championship game for a second straight year. The Tigers, who lost last year’s championship game to Harding University, will play another undefeated team for the state title. Hickory (29-0), topped Pisgah 66-57 in the 3A Western Regional girls’ championship at the Greensbooro Coliseum Saturday afternoon. The title game will be at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Smith Center, just a few miles from the Tigers’ campus.
Seeded fifth in the 3A East, West Craven (27-2) led by as much as 25-13 in the first half before Chapel Hill used its pressing defense to defeat the Eagles for the second time this season and for the second straight year in the East Regional championship.
Chapel Hill held the Eagles without a field goal for a stretch of 9 minutes, 12 seconds late in the second half to turn a 29-21 West Craven lead at halftime into a 45-37 advantage for the Tigers.
But Chapel Hill missed six of eight free throws in the game’s last 55 seconds – including the front end of three one-and-ones to allow West Craven get back within a point. UNC commit Jamie Cherry scored the Eagles’ last 7 points, including a floater from the lane that cut the Chapel Hill lead to 45-44 with 6 seconds remaining in regulation.
Fouled immediately on the ensuing inbounds, Chapel Hill’s Raziyah Farrington hit the second of two free throws to make the score 46-44 with 5 seconds left. Cherry tried to take the ball coast to coast but missed a runner launched from the free throw line as time expired.
“That was just a little nerve-wracking, to say the least,” said Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris, who led Chapel Hill to the NCHAA 4A championship in 1981.
The first time Chapel Hill and West Craven met this year, the Tigers roared out to to a 20-2 lead and routed the Eagles 76-52 in a Raleigh holiday tournament.
“They smacked us around pretty good and made us look like we didn’t even belong on that court in Raleigh,” West Craven coach David Fernandez said. “Getting up by 12 in the first half today made us feel really good, but Chapel Hill is Chapel Hill. They just keep coming and coming.”
The Tigers arrived 30 minutes late in Fayetteville, delayed by ice from Friday’s storms still blocking their bus parking lot. The players dressed in Chapel Hill and warmed up quickly once they got to the Crown Coliseum.
But the Tigers started as cold as the hockey ice under the coliseum’s hardwood, missing 10 of their first 13 shots.
“Chapel Hill looked like it just got off the bus in the first half,” Fernandez said.
Cherry, who averaged 33.6 points a game coming into the regionals, scored a game-high 23 Saturday, while Attalia Dixon added 10 points for West Craven.
Farrington led Chapel Hill with 13 points. Catherine Romaine was named the East Regional tournament’s Most Valuable Player after blocking nine shots Saturday while getting 10 rebounds and adding eight points.