Grace steals spot in CCC final
Grace Christian’s girls’ basketball season wasn’t in danger of coming to a close as Cape Fear Christian put up a major test in the Carolina Christian Conference Tournament semifinals.
Sparked, perhaps even saved, by back-to-back steals and back-to-back baskets by freshman point guard Alexis Ross, the Lady Crusaders won 54-50 to make tonight’s final against Cresset Christian.
Next week, when the Lady Crusaders (27-3) are in the NCISAA 1A State Tournament, they won’t have the same leeway.
The visiting Lady Eagles, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, outplayed the Lady Crusaders in many areas of the game and for significant stretches of the game. The Lady Crusaders took care of Cape Fear Christian by 23 points and by 16 points during their CCC regular-season title. The semifinal was Grace’s first single-digit win versus a conference foe this season and its third out of its 27 overall wins.
Cape Fear Christian slowed Grace’s normally quick-starting offense to a 5-5 score a little more than four minutes into the game. A 9-2 Lady Eagle run to close the opening half made it 27-22 Grace at halftime.
The only Lady Crusader strength Cape Fear Christian didn’t find an answer for was Anna Murr from beyond the three-point arc. Murr scored 29 points, 27 coming on nine three-pointers.
Murr, with three triples, and Brooke Strickland with seven points, accounted for all of the offense in Grace’s 16-11 lead through one period. Two straight Murr threes took Grace’s margin to 24-13 before Cape Fear Christian’s rally in the last few minutes of the half.
Forward Katelyn DeVane scored nine points and led the way inside as the Lady Eagles out-rebounded Grace 21-9 in the first half. Guard Hannah Brannon added seven points.
Grace opened the second half with a 7-0 run only for the Lady Eagles to make a 9-0 run, getting within a 34-31 Crusader lead on Madison Pentony’s baseline drive and lay-up.
A three-pointer by Ross slowed the Lady Eagle surge for a bit but a 12-0 Cape Fear Christian run, with five points to close the third period and seven in the first 1:47 of the fourth, put the Lady Eagles ahead 43-39.
Murr hit her eighth three-pointer of the night for a 43-43 score, then her ninth trey, a deep one, while guarded, from the left wing, for a 46-45 Grace edge with a little more than three minutes left.
The Lady Eagles answered with clutch baskets on their next two trips. The second was a three-pointer by Pentony for a 50-46 Cape Fear Christian lead as the clock ticked past two minutes.
Cape Fear Christian regained the ball with the chance to extend its four-point lead. A Lady Eagle miss led to Strickland grabbing the loose rebound, then driving the length of the floor for a three-point play with 1:27 left.
Grace Christian’s trapping defense, which the Lady Eagles largely handled well for most of the game, paid off when the Lady Crusaders needed it.
Madison Bolen stole the ball at midcourt and missed the fast-break lay-up. A Lady Eagle grabbed the rebound momentarily before Ross came in for a steal, and made a lay-in, for a 51-50 Grace lead.
A few seconds later at midcourt, another Grace double-team led to Ross getting a steal, a fast break and a lay-up.
After another Lady Eagle turnover, now with 0:18 left, Strickland made 1-of-2 at the line for a 54-50 lead.
Strickland finished with 14 points and six rebounds. Ross had eight points, seven steals, five rebounds and four assists.
For Cape Fear Christian, Brannon had 15 points and five rebounds and Pentony had 15 points, five boards and four assists. DeVane had nine points and 10 boards.
Cape Fear Christian had a 38-21 rebounding advantage. Grace Christian had a 14-4 advantage in steals, although five of the steals came on Cape Fear Christian’s last five possessions. The Lady Crusaders made 12 three-point baskets and six two-point baskets.
Grace Christian will meet No. 2 seed Cresset Christian in the final Friday at 5 p.m.
Grace and Cresset met once in the regular season with the Lady Crusaders winning 62-43 in Sanford for Cresset’s only CCC loss.