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Lady Warriors advance

MERRY HILL – Lawrence Academy’s Lady Warriors stormed back in the third quarter here Tuesday night and won their NC Independent Schools Athletic Association opening round state playoff game 54-48 over Pope John Paul II School.

Lauren Baker finished with 23 points to lead all scorers and pace two other Lady Warrior players in double-figure scoring.  Niya Williams and Sydnee Neal had 20 points each to lead the Lady Saints.

With the game knotted at 33-all in the third quarter Pope John Paul’s Neal took a bounce pass in the low post and made a drop-step move on defender Sydney Wilkerson.  Instead, Wilkerson didn’t fall for the head fake and blocked the shot.  Lawrence drove to the other end where Baker took a pass from Gracen Rogers and hit nothing but nets on a three-ball and the Warriors never trailed in the game again.

“We defended her (Neal) well because we knew she was their main threat,” said Lawrence coach Lee Hoffman. “That and we made our free throws at the end.”

The game featured a couple of ties and five lead changes.  Trailing 4-1, Neal was fouled on a lay-up and her free throw accounted for the first tie at 4-4.  After a Baker jump shot, Williams then drained the first of her five treys on the night for a 7-6 Saints lead.  It was 12-8 with less than four seconds on the clock when Baker launched a triple at the buzzer that swished to leave the Warriors only trailing by a point after quarter number-one, 12-11.

Lawrence re-took the lead, 16-14, with a 5-2 run that opened the second quarter. However, Williams hit another three-ball that had the Saints back in front.  Foul trouble began to catch up with PJP2, but Lawrence only made three-of-six at the line, still down by four.  Behind the one-two scoring punch of Williams and Neal, the Saints upped their lead to seven twice, including 29-22 with time ticking down.  Once again, however, it was Baker coming through at the buzzer, letting rip another three-pointer right before the horn and Lawrence headed to the locker room down four, 29-25.

Hoffman opened the second half giving his players free rein on the perimeter.  The ladies responded to that confidence stamp by making three of four three-pointers, in between a baseline lay-up by Rebekah Goodwin. Still, the Saints matched the Warriors’ shots and maintained their lead until Rogers triple put Lawrence back in front, 33-31.  Megan Zebski got a put-back for PJP2 and the game was tied for the second time at 33.

That’s where the key Lawrence defensive move may have shifted the momentum. Baker’s three-ball made it 36-33 and after a running one-hander got the Saints back within one, 36-35, Rogers was fouled on a circus jump shot in the lane, made the free throw, and the quarter ended without another Baker buzzer-beater, but rather on a miss by the Saints and Lawrence remained in front, 39-35.

Rebounding and foul trouble became Lawrence’s new best friends entering the fourth quarter.  Collecting the caroms off PJP2 misses, Lawrence converted one into an easy lay-up, while on another trip down court Baker was fouled and made one-of-two foul shots.  She would account for six of her squad’s 14 fourth quarter points, including a steal and lay-up that gave Lawrence its largest lead – eight points – at 48-40.

But the Saints didn’t yield; Neal scored five straight points – four in the paint, plus a free throw – and PJP2 was back within three at 48-45.  But on the next possession, Lawrence worked a back-door cut to perfection, allowing Katlynn Stotesberry to easily score a chippy lay-up with under a minute to play. Forced to foul, Williams picked up her fifth and was gone as Lawrence made four-of-six from the charity stripe to seal up the six-point win.

“Once we neutralized the (center) and their shooter (Williams) fouled out they didn’t have another answer, and I knew they wouldn’t beat us like that,” said Hoffman.

“They just got worn out from running up and down the floor with us,” said Baker. “That’s what helped us in the end. As for those buzzer beaters, I reminded coach that’s why I practice them, because you never know when you’ll need them in a game.”

Lawrence will travel to meet six-seed Wayne County Day in Goldsboro later today (Thursday) in the second round, with the winner meeting four-seed Trinity Christian Saturday in Fayetteville.

POPE JOHN PAUL II  (48)

Niya Williams-20, Sydnee Neal-20, Megan Zebski-5, Lacey Ross-3.

LAWRENCE (54)

Lauren Baker-23, Rebekah Goodwin-13, Gracen Rogers-12, Katlynn Stotesberry-4, Lindsey Smith-2.