Bethel ladies win state title

Published 12:38 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2012

LUMBERTON – Four years ago Ashley Byrum took over a team of freshmen and sophomores – and a few eighth graders – at Bethel Christian Academy.

He and his team took their lumps, playing against much older competition for two years before the tide began to turn.

“We were so much younger than everyone else that we took our bumps and bruises,” Byrum said. “I have the same girls I started with and I’ve told them all along to be patient, we’re growing up and we’re getting better.”

A season ago, Byrum led his team to a second place finish in the league and a 20-win season.

“I told them at the athletic banquet last year there was only one place left to go,” he mused.

That place was to the North Carolina Christian Athletic Association state championship – a feat the Lady Eagles accomplished this season thanks to a 36-35 overtime victory over Gramercy Christian School.

“It meant everything to the girls,” Byrum said. “We have been working with most of them for four years and it has been a slow climb.”

He said he was particularly happy for his seniors – Elizabeth Farmer and Charitee Dunlow – who had been part of his team since he coached intramurals and junior varsity basketball at Bethel before taking the varsity reins.

“I have been coaching Elizabeth for seven years and Charitee for six, so I wanted it badly for them,” he said.

The championship wasn’t easy to come by, however, as perennial power Gramercy Christian took the Eagles to the edge.

Bethel jumped out to a 12-2 first quarter lead on the strength of six points from Jessica Howerton and three each from Farmer and Kelsie Conner.

In the second quarter, the Lady Eagles continued to pull away thanks to a 7-5 period. The scoring was balanced in the quarter with Conner, Dunlow and Alyssa Fairless each scoring two points and Farmer adding one.

Then came the third quarter when Gramercy roared from behind and outscored Bethel 16-5 behind eight points from Rebecca Midgett and six from Elton Cobb. The Eagles answered with only five – three from Conner and two from Farmer.

The result was Bethel holding on to a 24-23 lead heading into the final quarter.

The defensive struggle continued in the fourth quarter with Kristin Adams, Conner and Farmer each scoring two points for the Eagles, but Gramercy responding with four from Harmon, two from Midgett and one from Abby Griffiths to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Once there, the Eagles would not be denied. Their coach had told them the state title could be a win by one or 100, and he got the former. Bethel outscored Gramercy 6-5 in the overtime period and in so doing, earned the first state title for the Bethel’s varsity girls in more than a decade.

Conner and Farmer tied for scoring honors with 11 each. Howerton added  six during the contest to go along with 10 rebounds and three blocks. Dunlow had four points, three rebounds and a pair of assists for the Eagles.

Rounding out the scoring were Fairless and Adams with two points each.

Midgett led Gramercy with 16 while Harmon added nine and Cobb had eight. Griffiths had two points.

The win boosted the Lady Eagles to 23-4 overall heading into this week’s national tournament in Dayton, Tennessee.

“It was a wonderful experience for the girls,” Byrum said. “I’m proud of them and all they have accomplished.”