Lady Cruasders win CCC tourney
Grace Christian completed a season-long team goal, an undefeated run through the Carolina Christian Conference this season, with a 69-61 victory over Cresset Christian in the girls’ final of the CCC Tournament Friday night in Torgerson Gymnasium.
Junior shooting guard Anna Murr, already Player of the Year in the CCC, won the tournament MVP honor and deservedly so as she scored 18 points a night after making nine three-pointers in a 54-50 Grace win over Cape Fear Christian in the semis.
In the championship game though, Murr got lots of help from her friends.
Senior guard Brooke Strickland poured in 24 of her 33 points in the second half and freshman point guard Alexis Ross had an outstanding all-around game with 10 points, 11 assists, seven steals and a defensive assignment which seems odd for a point guard, but is part of the usual Lady Crusader game plan thanks to Ross.
In the nail-biting win against Cape Fear Christian, Ross played defense on the opposing point guard while Strickland had the main assignment in the post, said Grace Christian head coach Joel Murr.
Against Cresset, Strickland defended senior point guard Melissa Devlin while Ross, Grace’s tallest player, battled inside against Cresset’s Maggie Addison.
Anna Murr, Strickland and Ross tallied all 15 Grace points in the opening period. Cresset, using a strength on the boards to its advantage with Addison, at 5-foot-10, and 5-foot-11 freshman Meradith Devlin, battled the Lady Crusaders back and forth for a 15-15 tie through the quarter.
Freshman Kaycee Murr sparked the Lady Crusaders with two three-pointers early in the second period as Grace took a 23-17 lead. Ross hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds for a 33-23 Crusader lead at the half.
“When Kaycee and Alexis hit shots, it was big,” said coach Murr. “(Cresset) was in a triangle-and-two, so I don’t think they were expecting that.”
Ross, who had eight points, seven assists and four steals in the half, started and set up plenty of Crusader breaks with her defense and dishing.
Grace’s lead was still 10 points until Strickland hit a three-pointer, finished a Ross outlet pass for a lay-up, then scored a back-door lay-in off a Ross assist, for Grace’s largest lead of the game, 46-29, with 4:54 left in the third period.
Cresset kept pressing its advantage in and around the paint, mainly with Meradith Devlin who finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds, 22 and eight of which she put up in the second half.
The Lady Eagles got within eight, 46-38, late in the third period off a reversed three-point play, with Meradith Devlin getting a board and putback basket off a missed free throw.
With Grace leading 55-47 early in the fourth period, and following a Lady Crusader timeout, Murr, Strickland and Ross kept the ball for 1:21 before Strickland drove down the lane for a three-point play.
A couple more long Grace possessions ran the clock down, but didn’t quite seal the game away. Cresset got a Meradith Devlin hoop, off an offensive board, to make it 66-59, then another board and putback by Devlin to get within 66-61.
Murr made 1-of-2 at the line with 0:29 left, followed by the Lady Crusaders getting a needed stop, then Strickland making two at the line to decide the game.
“This was one of the goals set by the girls early in the season, to go win the conference season and tournament, and go undefeated doing it,” said Joel Murr.
“It’s a little unusual, and pretty amazing, for a team to be able to do that, with what it takes night in and night out,” he said.
Grace Christian (28-3) takes a 12-game winning streak into the NCISAA 1A State Tournament.
The state tournament starts Tuesday. The top four seeds will earn a first-round bye and play in Thursday’s quarterfinals hosted by Covenant Day School in Matthews. The Lady Crusaders will learn their spot in the bracket on Sunday.