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Lady Rams wins TIC tourney

ELIZABETH CITY – Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.

The oft-repeated metaphor was proven true again Saturday afternoon at Elizabeth City Middle School.

Ridgecroft School put on a defensive showcase in the Tarheel Independent Conference varsity girl’s championship game and defeated Hobgood Academy 44-37.

“In the first half, we played about as good as we can play defensively,” Lady Rams’ Head Coach Elton Winslow said. “We really got after it in the first half and took them out of their game.

“We outscored them 8-0 in the second quarter,” he continued. “If you hold them to no points in a quarter, you’ve played some solid defense.”

Ridgecroft led 21-8 at the half thanks to their solid defensive effort. One that was important in the championship run, according to Winslow, was Lady Rams’ senior Hayes Bryant.

“We played excellent defense in the first half,” Bryant said. “It was amazing.”

After the Lady Raiders jumped out to a 4-0 lead behind hoops from Jamee Vanderford and Bobbi Stewart, Ridgecroft battled back.

Bryant hit a field goal that was followed by senior Jessica Bolton’s three-pointer that pushed Ridgecroft ahead 5-4.

Bryant continued to push the Ridgecroft offense when she scored three the old-fashioned way by hitting a hoop and a free throw. Caitlin Harrison added a hoop to give the Lady Rams a 10-4 lead with 3:33 to play in the first quarter.

Vanderford finally stopped the Ridgecorft run, but Bolton came back with a triple. Corie Roberson scored for Hobgood to get the Lady Raiders to within 13-8 after one quarter.

The second quarter was the best for the Lady Rams all season as they scored eight points while holding Hobgood off the board.

Emily Cooke hit a triple as did Bryant and Tayler Smith scored for the Lady Rams during the quarter.

Hobgood appeared ready to rally in the third quarter when Vanderford scored three points and Morgan Clark hit a hoop, but Ridgecroft was able to score late in the period to hold a 25-14 edge at the end of the period.

Hobgood closed to within 32-28 after Schuyler Edmondson hit back-to-back three pointers and three shots from the charity stripe.

After a timeout by Winslow, the Lady Rams responded with Cooke hitting two free throws and a hoop before Harrison found the bottom of the net to push the advantage back to 10 (38-28) with 2:30 to play.

From there, the Lady Rams sealed the win from the free throw line.

Ridgecroft ended the season by beating every team in the Tarheel Independent Conference at least one time despite changing coaches in mid-season. After their coach left in December, Winslow and Doug Cobbs came back to the Rams’ bench.

“We looked at some other alternatives,” Winslow said. “We had some people who could have come in and taken the varsity team, but I just felt like the least turmoil would be if we stayed with the same system. It had basically been the system Doug used, so if we did it, it would be less of an adjustment for our girls.”

Cobbs said he and Winslow both knew the team would have to learn before they improved.

“The first thing I told Elton is we were going to take steps backward before we go forward and we did,” he said. “The girls have responded. They improved every day.”

Part of the credit to the tournament success could have come the week before the TIC tournament when the Rams took two days off.

“Elton and I put the girls through a lot in practice,” Cobbs said. “We finally decided we needed to give the girls two days off because they were tired. They had put so much into it.”

Winslow said it made a difference.

“We played with a lot of energy in all three games,” he said. “I felt like we had a good chance, but I didn’t know how much we had in the tank. Once we started and I saw what we had, I knew we had a good chance.”

Another reason for the success was the determination of the seniors to leave on a high note.

“The seniors and I were talking and we wanted to go out with a bang,” Bryant said. “We were going to give it our all.”

Their all was enough to win the TIC tournament and earn a bid to the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association state 1-A playoffs.

They open tournament play at 5 p.m. today (Tuesday) when they host Kerr-Vance Academy.