The New Manna Christian Lady Wind’s 49-47 victory over Statesville Southview gave the school its first basketball state championship last weekend.
But it almost didn’t happen.
The Lady Wind –trying to break New Manna’s 23-year drought on the hardwood – was down 11 in the second half and still trailed by seven before senior Maci Clark’s 3-pointer cut it to four with 40 seconds left.
That’s when head coach Curtis Styles made what he sarcastically referred to as “a brilliant coaching move.”
Clark had been in foul trouble most of the game, and was saddled with four as the game reached its climax. Styles, subbing defense for offense, immediately inserted seventh-grader Sunshyne Webb for Clark.
After New Manna made a quick foul, Styles sent Clark back onto the floor.
But the foul was only the team’s sixth. The Lady Wind needed one more to send Southview to the line. Styles couldn’t take Clark back out of the game because no time had elapsed.
The coach went pale as he realized his mistake. Sure enough, it was Clark who ended up in position to commit the next foul.
“She sacrificed the end of her career to make the right move and foul the girl,” said Styles.
But if the coach was worried, the senior standout was not.
“I knew I had started something (with the 3-pointer),” said Clark. “So when I went down there and had to foul, I said, I started it; my girls have got this. I just went and sat down and didn’t cry or anything.”
Turns out they would have just been wasted tears.
Southview missed the front end of the one-and-one, and Breigh Stewart, who scored a game-high 21 points, went coast-to-coast for a swooping layup that cut the margin to two at 47-45.
Then came the first of two big defensive plays by Webb.
“When they (Southview) came out of the break, they had a kid throwing the ball in that had hardly played at all,” said Styles. “Southview’s point guard is pretty good, so I told Sun, whatever you do, don’t let her catch the ball.”
Webb followed Styles’ instructions perfectly, face-guarding her opponent.
“He said, keep your head in her chest and don’t let her get the ball,” said Webb.
With Webb playing tenacious defense, the Southview player wisely ran toward the inbounder, who made a costly error, handing the ball off to her teammate instead of passing it, and turning the ball over the Lady Wind.
New Manna worked the ball inside to Stewart, who drew a foul on a shot attempt. The sophomore calmly made both to tie the score.
Stewart’s confidence at the line may well have stemmed from a halftime shooting session at the charity stripe. Stewart dominated in the paint in the first half, but, to her frustration, missed four foul shots and made just 4-of-8 from the line.
“I missed a lot of free throws, and then at halftime, I knew I had to make them in the second half,” she said.
Junior teammate Karsen Shirley realized why Stewart was taking extra shots from the line, and ran to help her.
“I saw her walking out there, and I said, ‘you know what?’ Don’t move,” Shirley said. “I went and got her rebounds for her so it would be just like the game. And then I said your (Coach Styles) little phrase: ‘Routine, not results.’ I kept saying, ‘trust your shot, Breigh.’ I told her they couldn’t stop you. Just keep shooting.”
The mini-clinic worked, and Stewart was a perfect 3-for-3 from the line in the second half, finishing the game 7-of-11.
With the score tied 47-all, New Manna needed one more play, and Webb made it, laying out Superman-style to knock the ball away from a Southview player in the backcourt.
Guard Alexis Duncan grabbed the ball and found Daylee Styles wide-open under the basket.
It was a fitting ending for a team that stressed teamwork above all else the entire season.
“We’ve got good players, but we work together very well,” said Clark. “We just mesh. None of us try to outdo each other. We don’t try and do it all by ourselves.”