CHAPEL HILL — All of Chapel Hill’s dreams came true Saturday with a 69-56 victory over Hickory for the N.C. High School Athletics Association 3A girls basketball championship.
For the previously undefeated Red Tornadoes, Saturday’s 3A final was a nightmare.
Hickory (29-1) hadn’t trailed by even 10 points all season, let alone 26. But Chapel Hill (32-0), on a yearlong mission to capture the state championship after losing in last year’s final in Raleigh, lit up the Smith Center home crowd with an opening 28-6 run that ballooned to 38-16 by halftime and 46-20 midway through the third quarter.
“That was a great start in the first half. It felt really nice to be up by that much,” said Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris, who collected her second state basketball championship trophy Saturday. She led Chapel Hill to its first championship in 1981.
Chapel Hill junior Raziyah Farrington scored 18 points in the first half to spark the Tigers. She ended up with a game-high 22 points and the game’s MVP trophy.
“I didn’t want to have to go through that feeling again – of losing,” Farrington said. “We all stepped up for this game.”
Norris never seemed flustered, even as Hickory staged a ferocious 15-0 run in the last 3 minutes, 50 seconds of the third quarter.
“That was no surprise at all,” Norris said. “We knew Hickory wouldn’t quit. They’re too good a team”
Chapel Hill center Catherine Romaine, a 6-foot-2 signee for Bucknell, left the game briefly after getting her fourth foul with 7 minutes, 18 seconds left in the game. Romaine had eight points and nine rebounds in the first half, and her absence contributed to Hickory getting within 48-43 after a 3-pointer by Yazman Hannah with 5:16 left in regulation.
Norris contemplated a timeout to stop the Red Tornadoes’ run, but decided “it is what it is,” and re-inserted Romaine after less than a minute ran off the clock.
“I knew this was our perfect opportunity to win the state championship, playing in the Smith Center in front of a home crowd,” Romaine said. “I didn’t want to spend it sitting on the bench.”
Romaine scored six points in a span of 2 minutes, 9 seconds to help put Chapel Hill back up by 15, at 60-45.
The Tigers hit 7 of 8 free throws in the last 1:49 to ice their second state championship.
“It’s hard to beat a team when you only play one half,” Hickory coach Barbara Helms said. “We had a great run in the second half. But it was just too late.”
Romaine finished with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds to earn the Most Outstanding Player award for Chapel Hill. Jamella Smith contributed 12 points and five assists, while Tamia Eatmon had 11 points and four steals.
Sadasia Tipps led Hickory with 17 points and nine rebounds and was named the Red Tornadoes’ Most Outstanding Player. Hannah chipped in 16 points.
Danasia Whitherspoon, Hickory’s top scorer this season with 17.6 points a game, was held to nine points.
Chapel Hill held Hickory, which usually hit 50 percent of its tries from the field, to 19-for-50 shooting (38 percent). The Tigers were marginally better, making 25-of-57 (44 percent), but also hit 16-of-21 free throws, out-rebounded Hickory 39-31 and forced 24 turnovers while committing 16.
“We talked all year about making history, and this team did that, winning 32 games, and they’ve done it playing as a team,” Norris said. “They played with great intensity on both offense and defense.”