Lady Vikings advance to state's elite eight
Union Pines senior guard Lexie Coxe wasn't ready for her Lady Viking basketball career to end. Her clutch defense and the inside dominance of Stephanie Johnson, who scored a team-high 20 points, powered Union Pines to the elite eight of the NCHSAA 3A State Tournament with a 62-56 victory over Rocky Mount Friday night.
As Coxe and fellow senior starter Tiffany Hicks faced the prospect of playing their last game, Coxe had a simple message.
"Its been an honor to play for this team, but we're not done yet. We haven't played our best game and we are ready to do it tonight," she said.
The hosts, seeded No. 4 in the East Region, needed a strong effort against a No. 12 Rocky Mount team which surprised No. 5 Williams on Wednesday night. The Lady Gryphons were led on the season by senior guard Carmen Richardson who averaged 17 points and Keyanna Spivey who controlled the boards with over seven rebounds per game. From the opening tip, Johnson asserted herself and Coxe bottled up Richardson for most of the night.
Johnson paced the Lady Vikings with seven first quarter points, but her team trailed 11-10 after one period. Union Pines took the lead in the second quarter, outscoring the Lady Gryphons 16-4, with Hicks scoring six in the quarter. Union Pines led 26-15 at halftime, all without its leading scorer, Nyona Shields, scoring at all.
As the game wore on, Rocky Mount struggled from the free throw line and finished the game 2 of 13 from the charity stripe. Union Pines scored 17 points from the line.
A Shields 3-point play with 35 seconds to go in the third quarter pushed the lead to 41-30. More devastating to the Lady Gryphons was Spivey picking up her fourth foul with 28 seconds left and a whole quarter to play. She fouled out later in the fourth quarter.
Rocky Mount wouldn't go quietly though and an 8-0 Lady Gryphon run, with Tamara Harper scoring all eight points, cut the Lady Viking lead to 45-41 with 5:34 to play. Harper led the Lady Gryphons with 20 points. Richardson finished with 10 points.
Coxe, who didn't score in the first half, scored four points in the last 1:30 to finish off the Lady Gryphons and earn her team a date against No. 1 Chapel Hill (25-0) in the state quarterfinals.
Maresa Smith and Shields scored nine points each and Hicks added eight points.
Union Pines and Chapel Hill will meet Tuesday night at Fayetteville's Crown Coliseum at either 7 or 8:30 p.m.