After struggling most of the first half Thursday, Carroll County did what it has done all season – come together as a team. Several players made huge plays down the stretch as the Lady Cavs defeated William Byrd 50-40 in Hillsville for the Region 4D Championship – just the second regional title in program history.
With the team struggling early, Mariah Carter scored 12 of Carroll’s 18 first-half points. In the second half, Madi Dalton took the baton, netting 11 of her 13 points after intermission.
Everybody else chipped in, too. Danielle Gallimore hit a pair of timely 3-pointers in the second half. With Carroll leading just 32-28 late in the third quarter after a pair of Dalton free throws, Abi Easter stole the inbounds pass and scored to stretch the Cavalier lead to six. Abigail Kennedy played a whale of a game defensively. Kenda Robinson hit back-to-back shots to stretch the lead early in the fourth quarter. And Laken Alley drilled four-of-six free throws in the final three minutes to help secure the regional championship – Carroll’s first since 2012.
“They play together as good as any team I have ever coached,” Carroll County head coach Marc Motley said. “I told them in the locker room, of all the teams I have coached, this team is more focused right now than they were in December. Most teams come in November and they are ready to go, but this team is more focused now. They have got their eye on the prize and they are going to do everything they can not to be denied.”
With the win, Carroll County (23-3) earns the right to host a state tournament quarterfinal. The Cavaliers will take on Loudoun Valley (20-4) on Friday, March 2 at Pulaski County High School at 6 p.m.
“It is huge because now you are the host school, you are going to travel 30 or 40 minutes and you are not going to travel four-and-a-half hours,” Motley said. “We got caught up in that last year and didn’t play enough games to get a home game. We had to go on the road last year to Loudoun County. It is big to get this on your home floor and of course our student section makes a difference. Our crowd is awesome but I think Byrd handled it really well. We didn’t get into their heads early but I think we got into their legs late. I thought that was the difference. I am hoping they will be able to travel to Pulaski next week because we will pack that place as well, I think.”
For most of the first half, Carroll County’s offense consisted of Carter picking off William Byrd (20-6) passes and heading the other way for layups. All five of her steals came before intermission. Jacy Marvin drilled two 3-pointers in the first half for the Terriers, however, who led 23-18 at the break as Carroll shot just 32 percent from the field (8-of-25) in the first 16 minutes.
“We didn’t score the basketball in the first half. We didn’t play bad. We had good looks at the basket, it just didn’t go in,” Motley said. “That and we got sped up, we got a little bit too excited at times.”
The Cavaliers turned it around with a 9-0 run to open the third quarter. Dalton led the charge by being aggressive, slashing to the basket for close looks and hitting jumpers. She scored seven during the run to put Carroll back in front 27-23 with 3:34 left in the period.
“We are really unselfish as a team and I think if somebody is off, then somebody else picks up for them and we are really encouraging throughout the game,” said Dalton of her aggressive opening to the second half. “Coach Motley expects all of us to bring the most aggressive part of us that we can bring, to work the hardest as we can at all times and I just wanted to win.”
After Byrd’s Sydney Burton responded with a 3-pointer, Gallimore answered with her own trifecta on the other end. Motley thought that shot was one of the biggest plays of the night.
“She struggled the whole first half shooting the basketball and then she made two huge threes. She got us over that hump,” Motley said. “She was able get that shot to go in, then they come down and hit a three to cut it to one or two and then she comes right back down and nails a three 10 seconds later and I think that kind of stunned them a little bit.”
Byrd trimmed the margin to two points a couple of possession later before Dalton was fouled and made both free throws. Easter then stole the inbounds and scored to stretch the Cavalier advantage to 34-29.
“(Mariah carried us early and Madi) caught fire and got us that little lead. Those two kids are dangerous. Every time we have had a tough game this year they have come up big, even losing to Fleming one of them had 27 and one of them had 25 in losses. They come up big in big games,” Motley said. “But all those kids made big plays. Abby Kennedy played unbelievable. She only had four points but she probably had five blocks. She gave up one play all night long in the fourth quarter and that was it. Every time she was in perfect position always making everything tough for them.”
Gallimore opened the fourth quarter with another 3-pointer and Kenda Robinson’s running teardrop from 12 feet stretched Carroll’s lead out to 39-29. The Terriers never got closer than seven points the rest of the way as the Cavaliers owned the second half.
“We told them at halftime, ‘Settle down on offense, keep doing what you are doing on defense.’ And we did turn up a little pressure I guess but I really think we got into their legs about the end of the third quarter and we started to stretch that lead out just a little bit,” Motley said. “Us having the ability to rotate kids in and give everybody just a little bit of a break I think really, really helped us out.”
Gallimore said after Carroll County lost two of its all-time leading scorers, Keely Lundy and Mattie Kennedy, to graduation last year, not many people believed the Cavaliers could win a regional championship this season. The one person who did believe though was one of the most important – Coach Motley.
“I told my kids we would be upset if we don’t. That was our plan from day one. When I got back here and we started talking to our kids about this year, I said, ‘Ladies, you aren’t going to hear me talking good about you, not to the press. But I expect we are going to win a regional championship and we have the ability to do that,’” Motley said. ‘After four games I was questioning it. But they turned it around and we felt this was a very good possibility. We had some gamers that can play. It was just the two kids who left last year were really, really tremendous players. We have some good kids playing now, too.”
But in the end, Carroll County had to revert to its early-season form to knock off the Terriers. While Thursday’s regional championship wasn’t as pretty as many of the blowouts the Lady Cavs have strung together most of the season, it was the kind of basketball the team needed to hang another regional championship banner.
“We didn’t play great on the offensive end. We didn’t shoot the ball well, but we were just gutty and gritty and all of the things you want out of a team. We talked about that after our first three or four games…we were down in the third quarter or tight in our first four games against teams I think we are better than, and we wound up losing one,” Motley said. “We told them in the locker room, ‘Guys, this may not be the team that scores 65 or 70 points and beats people. We may just have to grind it out every single night.’ As the season went on we didn’t have to do that. We were putting the ball in the hole. Well, tonight it got back to having to grind one out and making a couple of plays when you had to and our kids made those plays when you had to.”
W. Byrd 14 9 6 11 – 40
Carroll 12 6 16 16 – 50
William Byrd – Burton 2 0-0 5, Grant 4 3-4 13, Karnes 2 0-0 4, Marvin 4 0-0 10, Hurt 3 0-0 6, Sowers 1 0-0 2. 3-pointers – Grant 2, Marvin 2, Burton 1.
Carroll County – Easter 1 0-0 2, Dalton 4 5-8 13, Gallimore 2 1-2 7, Robinson 2 0-0 4, Alley 0 4-6 4, Carter 8 0-2 16, Kennedy 2 0-0 4. 3-pointers – Gallimore 2.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN