Bethel just misses repeat

Published 11:13 am Tuesday, February 26, 2013

ASKEWVILLE – It was a shot at school history; but it will now have to wait for another time.

The Bethel Assembly Christian Academy girls basketball team was poised to repeat as state champions in the NCCAA state tournament, which the Lady Eagles were hosting, but their effort fell short as they lost in the finals Saturday to the Eastern Christian Home School (TEACH) 47-34.

Bethel seniors Jessica Howerton and Kelsie Conner closed out their basketball careers as leading scorers in the title game with 18 and 11 points, respectively.

Whitney Rowe had 17 points to lead TEACH, while sister, Jessica, had 16.  A dozen of Whitney’s 15 second half points came on shots from behind the three-point line.

“We handled the ball with pressure and we made our free throws down the stretch,” said TEACH coach, Greg Rowe. “Big-time players step up in big-time games.”

Semi-final wins on Friday set up the fourth meeting this season between the two schools. TEACH downed a tough Riverside Christian Academy team from Lumberton, while Bethel disposed of Gramercy Christian of Newport.

Conner was leading scorer for BACA in the Friday semi with 16 points, a dozen in the second half, while teammate Alyssa Fairless added 11 more; as Danielle Cobb led Gramercy with 11.

Bethel scored eight of the game’s first ten points against Gramercy, but only was up by two after one quarter, 10-8. Gramercy opened the second with a three-pointer, but after it was 11-8, the Lady Warriors never led again.

With Howerton controlling the paint and Fairless making what seemed like impossible jump shots, Bethel reeled off ten in a row while their defense held GCA scoreless the rest of the half.  The teams went to the locker-room with Bethel leading it, 20-11.

Bethel only got a pair of free throws early in the third and Gramercy was able to trim the Eagles’ lead to 22-15. After a field-goal for the Warriors with less than five minutes remaining, Bethel retained control, reeling off nine in a row for a 31-15 lead going into the fourth.

Bethel protected the ball down the stretch, making four-of-seven free throws and held off any Gramercy rally for a 39-25 win.

“I don’t see any back-to-backs up there,” said Bethel coach Ashley Byrum, pointing to Bethel’s girls state championship banners hanging on the gym wall. “This is an opportunity to do something that’s never been done before.”

But it was not to be.

TEACH opened the championship game scoring the first six points of the quarter before Bethel even got on the board. The Lady Blazers closed out the frame with another 6-0 run as Bethel had trouble connecting on their shots and TEACH led it 16-5.

It was 18-5 in the second before Bethel scored nine straight to trail by 18-14. The Eagles’ zone defense kept the Blazers at bay and the home team only trailed by six, 22-16, at halftime.

A low-scoring third quarter got Bethel back into it, and their deficit was just three points, 25-22, entering the fourth; but TEACH’s last basket was a three-pointer.

Turns out that was the first of five treys scored by the Blazers. Their collapsing defense kept the usually reliable Conner bottled up and BACA’s outside shots just wouldn’t fall.  TEACH, meanwhile, dropped four more three-pointers and got the lead up to ten at 38-28. Bethel closed it to four thanks to Howerton’s inside play but the Eagles failed to score in the final two minutes of the contest as the Blazers made five-of-six foul shots from the line.

“I’m proud of them,” said a disappointed but not discouraged coach Byrum, “so very, very proud of them.

“We were first last year, and second this year,” he added. “A lot of people would be proud to have that record, and I am.”

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS: It was a good weekend for other area teams in tournament action. Gates County High School’s girls’ team won the Tar-Roanoke Athletic Conference event with a 48-43 win over Weldon as Kierra Ballard scored 22 points and sister, Kaila, hit the game-winning free throws. On the boys’ side in the TRAC, Northampton County High School won its first title – and last, since the Jaguars are going to a new conference next year.  The Jags beat the Weldon boys in overtime 71-69 thanks to Ketrell Miles’ 21 points off the bench.