Published 10:25 am Tuesday, January 28, 2014

AHOSKIE – It played out like it should: a battle for first-place.

In the end, Hobgood’s inside game, and success at the free-throw line, proved to be the difference.

Taylor Smith sank a pair of free throws with two seconds left and propelled Hobgood Academy to a 40-39 win over Ridgecroft School to settle the top-seed in girls’ basketball in the Tarheel Independent Conference.

Smith’s late heroics spoiled a season-high night for Ridgecroft’s Tanja Sauermann, who finished with 19 points. Smith’s 15 points led Hobgood.

“That was our strategy on the last play: get the ball inside to Taylor,” said an exhausted, but happy, Hobgood coach Pam Tutor. “I knew if we could do that we had a chance.

“This is our biggest win of the year,” she added. “But these are always games full of excitement because both teams are so good.”

And Saturday’s contest – postponed twice because of weather – was just the first of two between the two rivals.  The rematch at Hobgood comes this Friday.

After the Lady Raiders took a 4-0 lead Ridgecroft came back to tie it at 5-5 thanks to a field goal and a three-pointer from Sauermann.  But Hobgood was undeterred, and outscored the Lady Rams 6-2 to end the quarter leading the game, 11-6.

After an exchange of baskets to open the second quarter, Ridgecroft managed to pull within two, 15-13, thanks to free throws from Katie Blowe and Mary Joe Harrell. But another five-point spurt from the Raiders and it was a seven-point lead, 20-13.  Emily Grace hit a floater for Ridgecroft and Hennie Larabee nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to make it a four-point game, 22-18, Hobgood, at the halftime break.

Smith continued her fine work in the low-post for Hobgood as the second half opened, but Ridgecroft coach Susan Oliver started to pack it in inside and the Rams began hitting their jump shots. Sauermann cut the lead to three, 23-20, early on, but Hobgood went on another run and built a lead of as many as eleven with less than two minutes to go in the third quarter. However, Ridgecroft closed strong thanks to Sauermann and Larabee and the Rams only trailed, 34-27, entering the final period.

Oliver’s strategy paid off well in the fourth as Hobgood began missing from the outside and the Rams zone denied Smith room to work in the paint. Sauermann hit back-to-back three-pointers that got the deficit down to three, 36-33; and then she nailed another from beyond the arc to tie it at 36-all with two minutes left.  With a minute-fifteen to play, Hobgood’s Megan Medford got a put back that put the Raiders back in front, 38-36.  Oliver called time and set up a play. The Rams worked the clock down to 15 seconds. With Sauermann and Larabee double-teamed, Emily Grace was open in the left corner.  Blowe fired a pass over to her and before the defender could get set, Grace launched one from behind the line and as it swished thru the Ridgecroft crowd erupted at the Rams’ first lead of the game, 39-38.

After Tutor called time to set her play and Oliver set her defense the Raiders quickly got the ball up the floor and inside to the five-eleven Smith who missed her first lay-up, but was fouled on her put-back attempt. She then went to the line and drained both free throws for a 40-39 Hobgood lead with two seconds on the clock.  Ridgecroft’s desperation shot was short and the Raiders escaped with a win.

“We played well coming off a game last night,” said Oliver, no hint of disappointment in her voice, and whose team had Senior Night on Friday against Albemarle. “But that didn’t hurt us as much as our shots not falling early in the game. We’ll see them again on Friday and we’ll be ready.”

Before that rematch this weekend, Ridgecroft (13-4, 7-1, TIC) will host Northeast on Tuesday while Hobgood (10-1, 8-0) is home to Terra Ceia.