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McCullough leaves on high note

WINDSOR – It was a beginning and an end.

Hertford County High School clinched a berth in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs Friday night with a 49-48 upset of Bertie High School. While the victory was the beginning of a playoff run, it was also the end of the line for head coach Joan McCullough.

The veteran girl’s basketball boss coached her final game for Hertford County after being informed Thursday the school district would not be allowing her to work out her 30-day notice. McCullough has accepted a position in the administration at Northampton County High School n East, but planned to teach and coach the remainder of the season for HCHS.

McCullough did not inform her team of the school’s decision until after they wrapped up the upset, choosing instead to focus on her squad’s playoff push.

The game itself, ended like a movie script for the coach who has had so many battles with Bertie over the years.

“There was no better way to end it,” McCullough said. “I wouldn’t have wanted the score to be any different.

“I had to coach non-stop buzzer to buzzer and the girls played non-stop buzzer to buzzer,” she continued. “The girls have played hard all season, but this time they were playing to get into the playoffs. They showed me how bad they wanted it and how committed they were to reaching our goals.”

The Lady Bears and Lady Falcons had an intense, hard-fought battle in their third matchup of the season.

Bertie jumped out to an early lead, only to have HCHS storm back.

As the game reached the end, the score was deadlocked at 46-all with just 1:32 remaining on the clock. Ashley Fountain broke the tie with a field goal for the Bears with just 45 seconds to play and Kenya Cofield, the game’s leading scorer with 17 points, hit a free throw with 18 ticks left on the clock.

Equalia Vines scored for Bertie with one second to play, but it wasn’t enough as the Lady Bears held on for the upset.

“I’m going to miss the rivalry between the two teams, but also the one between Coach (Alice) Lyons-Bennett and myself,” McCullough said. “Our rivalry is only on the court.”

The HCHS skipper said she received a big hug and congratulations from Bertie’s coach and that she appreciated the sentiments.

The game itself lived up to the rivalry that McCullough and Bennett have developed over the years, with neither team being able to pull away.

The Lady Falcons led 14-12 after one quarter, but HCHS opened the second period on a 12-0 run that put them ahead 24-14. Rasheema Speller and Cofield combined to score every point during the spurt.

Bertie, however, went on a 7-0 run of their own near the end of the period and trailed only 30-25 at the intermission.

After three quarters, the five-point margin was in place with HCHS holding a 37-32 advantage, but Bertie rallied to tied the score at 40-all midway through the quarter, setting up the late-game deadlock.

Cofield paced HCHS with 17 while Speller added 11 on the night. Vines had a team-high 16 points for Bertie while Tierra Brown added 13 and Laquetta Leary 10.

“The entire team hustled,” McCullough said. “Kenya Cofield did a great job in a hostile environment. She didn’t lose her head and kept her cool Friday night. She was team leader on the floor.”

The coach said despite finishing 5-16 overall and 3-9 in the Northeastern Coastal Conference, making the playoffs clinched a successful season.

Bertie finished 10-10 and 5-7 in the league.

Lady Bears (49): Kenya Cofield n 17, Rasheema Speller n 11, R. Moore n 9, A. Fountain n 4, J. Hardy n 4, A. Moore n 3, A. Lyles n 1

Lady Falcons (48): Equalia Vines n 16, Tierra Brown n 13, Laquetta Leary n 10, D. Bond n 4, Y. Bridgers n 3, E. Bond – 2