EAST CHAMPS: Chapel Hill comeback wins girls' 3-A semifinal
Chapel Hill fought off a case of first-half nerves and roared back during the final 16 minutes against West Craven to claim the NCHSAA 3-A Eastern Regional championship at Crown Coliseum on Saturday.
The Tigers’ 46-44 win lifted Chapel Hill (31-0) into the NCHSAA 3-A Championship game Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, where they will meet Western Regionial champion a Hickory (29-0).
Not only are Chapel Hill and Hickory undefeated, but they're the top seeds in there regions.
Chapel Hill lost in the state title game a year ago, but beat West Craven in Crown Coliseum to get there.
But the familiarity appeared lost on the Tigers.
“My girls played extremely nervous in the first half, and I don’t know why they had the jitters, because we’ve been on this stage before,” Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris said. “But they were, and they were uptight, so we missed some layups.”
West Craven coach David Fernandez noticed those goose bumps on the Tigers.
“That first half, they looked like they’d just gotten off the bus to play,” Fernandez said.
Rough weather in Orange County created black ice Saturday morning. The Tigers were supposed to leave Chapel Hill at 8:15 a.m. but were told that the team bus couldn’t depart until 10 a.m., Norris said.
So the Tigers sat and waited.
“That was like having a four-hour bus ride,” Norris said.
At Crown Coliseum, Chapel Hill actually punched first, a 6-0 start prompting Fernandez to burn a timeout.
West Craven senior guard Jamie Cherry, a fantastic scorer who will suit up for North Carolina in the fall, appeared frustrated. Her shots weren’t falling, and she kept looking for the refs to give her some calls.
Cherry got a deep 3-pointer to go down. Then her teammates began making shots, and before long West Craven was up 11-6.
Norris needed to talk it over with her girls.
All this time, Chapel Hill senior center Catherine Romaine wasn’t getting post touches. When her teammates did look for her down low, the Eagles kept denying her the ball.
Norris said her aim all season has been to have the Tigers score 20 points per quarter. That wasn’t happening against West Craven. Chapel Hill couldn’t make shots over the Eagles’ zone defense and trailed by eight points at halftime.
“We came out firing, ready to go,” Fernandez said. “We put up 29 points on that defense that only gives up 36 a game, and we scored 29 in the first half. We felt good, and then they went to that full-court 1-2-2 (defense) and turned up the heat.”
Most of the calls went Chapel Hill’s way in the third quarter.
“We had a bad third quarter,” Fernandez said.
Norris did the hokie-pokie. That’s what it was all about, she said.
The Tigers were playing tight, so Norris, who teaches physical education at Seawell Elementary School in Chapel Hill, literally told her team to do the hokie-pokie.
“She just said she wanted us to turn things around, so she tried to get us to dance,” Chapel Hill junior Tamia Eatmon said. “But everybody was like, ‘Coach, what?’”
“They got a good laugh out of it, so they kind of lightened up and went on and played,” Norris said about borrowing a page from her lesson plans. “There’s nothing like elementary P.E.”
Eatmon went to work. She had seven points, four assists and three steals.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, get to the basket,” Eatmon said. “If my shot wasn’t falling, I was going to drive.”
Eatmon did it all. She normally is Chapel Hill’s primary ball handler. But Chapel Hill forward Autumn West got in foul trouble, so Eatmon went to the post, where Romaine was patrolling the paint.
Romaine scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but those nine shots she blocked really impacted the game.
“In the second half, I don’t know, I stepped up my game a little bit so they couldn’t get those easy baskets inside,” Romaine said.
“She’s not always scored a lot of points for us, but she changes other teams’ games, because she’s a presence inside,” Norris said.
Romaine was named most valuable player of the Eastern Regional 3-A Tournament.
West and Chapel Hill junior Raziyah Farrington made the regional all-tournament team.
Cherry, West Craven senior Kaylee Koerperich and Northern Nash junior Kiana Thomas also made the all-tournament team.
With 22.6 seconds left in the game, a Cherry basket pulled West Craven within three points.
Farrington missed two free throws. Cherry got the rebound and went coast to coast for a layup that cut Chapel Hill’s lead to one with five seconds left.
Farrington, who made 29 straight free throws the other day in practice, missed another freebie. She was able to get the second free throw to go down and give Chapel Hill a 46-44 lead.
Cherry got the ball, so West Craven had a shot. She released a jumper on the run that hit the rim, but the iron was unkind.
“I’d like to have that shot back,” Cherry said.
Cherry would also like to have back the 11 turnovers she committed. That’s more than the entire Chapel Hill team had (10).
“We felt our dream was within reach,” Fernandez said.
Chapel Hill snatched it.
NOTES — Chapel Hill is 31-0, the most wins in a season in program history, Norris said. … Chapel Hill junior guard Jessica Wall received a blow that forced her out of the game. She had blurred vision and bruises on her face, but “she’ll be good to go next week,” Norris said.
No. 1 CHAPEL HILL 46, No. 2 WEST CRAVEN 44
Girls’ 3-A East Region Championship
West Craven 14 15 6 9 — 44
Chapel Hill 10 11 8 17 — 46
WEST CRAVEN — Jamie Cherry 23, Randi Wetherington 0, Jasmine Raynor 5, J’Miaya Wright 2, Mary Lathem 0, Attalia Dixon 10, Kaylee Koerperich 6, RonKeia Lewis 0, Lindsey Arthur 0.
CHAPEL HILL — Tamia Eatmon 7, Helen Gaynes 0, Paige Timothy 0, Autumn West 4, Mariah Jacobs 0, Jessica Wall 6, Raziyah Farrington 13, Catherine Romaine 8, Jamella Smith 8, Jasmine Suitt 0.
3-point FG — West Craven 3-10 (Cherry 2-8, Wright 1-2); Chapel Hill 0-9. Rebounds — West Craven 38 (Cherry 9, Dixon 8, Koerperich 7); Chapel Hill 32 (Romaine 10, West 5, Farrington 4, Smith 4). Assists — West Craven 6 (Raynor 3, Koerperich 2); Chapel Hill 7 (Eatmon 4, Romaine 2). Steals — West Craven 7 (Cherry 3, Koerperich 2), Chapel Hill 9 (Eatmon 3, West 2, Romaine 2). Blocks — West Craven 3 (Koerperich 2, Arthur 1), Chapel Hill 9 (Romaine 9). Turnovers — West Craven 20 (Cherry 11, Koerperich 5); Chapel Hill 10 (Farrington 4, Smith 3, West 2). FG — West Craven 12-39 (.308); Chapel Hill 19-54 (.352). FT —West Craven 17-24 (.708); Chapel Hill 8-17 (.471).
Records — West Craven 27-2, Chapel Hill 31-0.
Next game — 3-A state championship: East No. 1 seed Chapel Hill vs. West No. 1-seed Hickory (29-0), Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, Saturday, 5 p.m.