Tigers fall as Harding repeats title
The Chapel Hill Tigers will have to wait at least another year for their “big, gaudy ring.”
Harding University High School took advantage of early jitters by Chapel Hill and faltered only once in winning its second straight state 3-A girls’ basketball championship 56-52 Saturday at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
The Tigers (30-2) admittedly wasn’t ready to play early on and it showed.
“Nervous,” Chapel Hill senior Laura Musalem said. She then referred to the “big, gaudy ring” her coach, Sherry Norris, said the team was focused on winning.
“We thought a lot about getting that ring, but not enough about winning the game,” Musalem said.
“You look at (the girls) before the game, and they all look green in the face and you know you’re looking at a whole lot of nerves,” Norris said.
The Tigers had plenty of chances in the opening period but couldn’t buy a layup — or a jump shot, for that matter — while Harding’s Rams (24-4) rode strong floor play by MVP point guard Abrea Harris (11 points, 12 rebounds, six assists) to a 17-8 lead after one quarter.
The Charlotte team, which is the first school of any classification in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools to win back-to-back state basketball titles, held Chapel Hill to 20.6 percent shooting in the first half and led 29-19 at the break.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half,” Norris said, adding that the early deficit proved too much to overcome. “It wasn’t what they were doing on defense. It was us.”
But the Tigers were hot coming out of halftime on fire and looked like they might live up to their No. 1 ranking by MaxPreps.com among 3-A teams.
Chapel Hill went on an 11-0 run in the first three minutes of the third quarter to take a 30-29 lead.
Catherine Romaine (14 points, eight rebounds) and Jamella Smith (14 points) hit back-to-back shots, Musalem added a pair of free throws, Arianne Jacobs hit a 3-pointer and Smith added a 15-foot jumper to cap the run.
Chapel Hill immediately got the ball back on a steal by Raziyah Farrington (11 points) with a chance to add to the lead. But Farrington turned it over, and Harding answered with a 5-0 run for a lead it never would lose.
“Chapel Hill is an outstanding team,” Harding coach Anthony Jones said. “They didn’t get here by accident. My hat’s off to them.”
Chapel Hill improved its shooting to 37.5 percent in the second half but finished at 28.8 percent for the game compared to Harding’s 38.9 percent. The Tigers also lost the rebounding battle 46-38.
The Tigers didn’t go down without a fight, cutting the lead to 55-52 with 1:21 left on a pair of free throws by freshman Autumn West. Harding’s Ralisha Currence scored on a free throw with 1:10 left, and Chapel Hill had three possessions with a chance to cut into the lead but couldn’t score.
“Luckily, they missed shots at the end and we were able to get the rebounds,” Currence said.
The Tigers will return the core of the state runner-up team next season, as West is a freshman, guards Tamia Eatmon and Jessica Wall are sophomores and Smith and Romaine are juniors. Norris believes they have the ability to get back to this level.
“I told the girls on the bench after the game, ‘Remember this feeling,’” Norris said. “You don’t want to come up short.
“You looked forward to getting a big, gaudy ring, but we’ve accomplished a lot.”
NOTES — Romaine was named most outstanding player for the East champion Tigers, and her counterpart in the post for Harding, Brianna Hamrick, was named the most outstanding player (as opposed to MVP) for the West champion Rams. ... Hamrick scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Harding. Most of her points came on offensive rebound stick-backs and point-blank layups after assists from game Harris, who was named the most valuable player for the second straight season. She had missed much of this season after the death of her mother over the winter and thanked her teammates after the game for welcoming her back to the team.
Harding 56, Chapel Hill 52
Percentages: FG 38.9, FT 66.7, 3FG 25.0. 3-point FG: 2-8 (Drakeford 1-3, Harris 1-3, Currence 0-1, Sadler 0-1). Blocked shots: 2 (Drakeford, Hamrick). Assists: 13 (Harris 6, Currence 4, Drakeford, Griffin, Sadler). Steals: 15 (Currence 6, Griffin 4, Harris 3, Drakeford 2). Turnovers: 24 (Harris 8, Currence 5, Griffin 5, Drakeford 3, Hamrick 2, Daniels 1). Fouled out: Griffin.
Percentages: FG 28.8, FT 91.7, 3FG 18.8. 3-point FG: 3-16 (Smith 2-6, Jacobs 1-2, Farrington 0-4, Wall 0-4). Blocked shots: 4 (Romaine 3, Smith). Assists: 10 (Farrington 4, Eatmon 4, Musalem, Smith). Steals: 13 (Eatmon 4, Jacobs 2, Farrington 2, Smith 2, Musalem, Wall, West). Turnovers: 20 (Farrington 5, Romaine 4, Eatmon 3, West 2, Jacobs 2, Musalem, Guthmiller).
Records—Harding U. High School 24-4, Chapel Hill 30-2.