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Lady Rams garner berth

ELIZABETH CITY – Just after the horn sounded, ending the fourth quarter, there were two distinct reactions.

Terra Ceia Christian School’s varsity girls, seeded number one in the Tarheel Independent Conference tournament, swamped Lauren Ashley, while Ridgecroft School’s Lady Rams walked somberly to the bench.

Alas, the picture doesn’t tell the story, however.

The Knights celebrated Ashley’s shot that sent the game into overtime, though not without some controversy, while the Rams were labored with blowing a four-point lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

“My first inclination was the shot wasn’t good,” Ridgecroft Head Coach Elton Winslow said. “They ruled it good and then my second thought was that we had to get focused back on the game.

“I told the girls we have to forget about that and focus on the next four minutes,” he added. “We had a four-minute game and everyone was even.”

The Lady Rams did just that, refocused on the game at hand, and completed the biggest upset in the 2008 edition of the TIC tournament with a 66-62 win.

“I felt like we had a chance coming in,” said Winslow, whose team was seeded fourth. “They beat us by nine in the first game and three in the second one. We had beaten every other team in the conference at least once and I felt like maybe it was our turn tonight.”

It didn’t look that way during the opening minutes of the contest, however, as Terra Ceia jumped out to an 11-2 lead before Ridgecroft got started offensively.

Lady Rams’ senior Jessica Bolton hit a triple with 3:02 to play in the first quarter and then another one minutes later. Classmate Hayes Bryant then delivered a deuce at the 2:20 mark that had the Rams within 13-10.

Terra Ceia then used hoops from Jill Van Essendelft and Jordan Cantrell to push their advantage to 19-12 by the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was a different story entirely.

“We played better defense in the second quarter,” Winslow said. “We fell behind in the first and worked our way back into the game, but the second period we outscored them 20-3.

“We played better defense, got out on breaks more, converted on our end and did a better job on the boards,” he said. “In the first quarter, we missed a lot of shots and let them score in transition. In the second, we made most of those shots and forced them into a half court game.”

The second quarter started with Emily Cooke scoring for Ridgecroft and then Tayler Smith hit back-to-back hoops to give the Lady Rams.

The scoring onslaught wasn’t done, however, as Bryant then scored three consecutive hoops to open up a 24-19 lead for the Rams.

Cantrell, who led all scorers with a near-perfect game and 37 points, buried a three-pointer at the 3:11 mark to stop the Ridgecroft run.

The Lady Rams kept coming offensively, however, as Smith scored before Cooke added a hoop and two free throws. Bardin Murray came in off the bench and drained two free throws to help Ridgecroft lead 32-22 at the intermission.

Cantrell started the third quarter with a hoop and a free throw, but Ridgecroft was able to extend their lead to 36-25 thanks to a hoop by Bryant.

Cantrell, however, scored the next four points and teammate Mariah Van Essendelft buried two free throws to get the Lady Knights within 36-31.

The teams battled back-and-forth until Cantrell scored three and Jenna Floyd added a score to leave Ridgecroft with just a four-point edge (47-43) after three quarters.

Ridgecroft tried to stave off the Terra Ceia comeback, but the Knights went in front at the 3:05 mark of the fourth when Van Essendelft hit both ends of a 1-plus-1.

From there, the game became a free throw shooting contest.

Cooke buried two shots from the line with 33 seconds to play that put the Rams up by four, but Cantrell scored twice from the line answered by a Bryant free throw that gave Ridgecroft a three-point edge with 19 ticks left on the clock.

With Cantrell on the bench after being assessed her fifth foul, Ashley heaved the ball as time expired and hit the three-pointer that sent the game to overtime.

Bolton hit 1-of-2 from the line just 16 seconds into overtime and the Ridgecroft passing game did the rest. After forcing a Terra Ceia turnover, the Lady Rams took over a minute off the clock passing the basketball and eventually forced the Knights to foul.

Piland hit two free throws down the stretch and Bolton added one with just a second left to give Ridgecroft the win.

Bryant led the Lady Rams with 25 points while Bolton and Cooke each had 12. Smith, who had her best offensive game, added eight.

The win gave Ridgecroft a berth in Saturday’s 5 p.m. Tarheel Independent Conference championship game.

Lady Rams (66): Hayes Bryant n 25, Jessica Bolton n 12, Emily Cooke n 12, Tayler Smith n 8, April Piland n 2, Bardin Murray n 2, Caitlin Harrison n 2

Lady Knights (62): Jordan Cantrell n 37, Mariah Van Essendelft n 11, Jessica Vanderweit n 4, Jenna Floyd n 4, Lauren Ashley n 3, Jill Van Essendelft n 2, Sara Welti – 1