MORGANTON – The McDowell Lady Titans crossed paths with an old Mountain Athletic Conference foe Friday afternoon and survived the journey, beating the Erwin Lady Warriors 57-54 to take fifth place at the 2017 Freedom Christmas Invitational.
McDowell (7-5) finished this year’s edition of the annual holiday basketball tournament winning two games. After losing 61-47 to Asheville Christian Academy in the opener the Lady Titans bounced back with a pair of wins, against both the Lady Warriors and a 59-45 win against Wilkes Central in the second game of the tourney on Thursday.
“These three days are some of the most grueling that the girls go through over the course of a season,” said McDowell head coach Jennifer Kinninger. “I thought we fought and played hard against a good Asheville Christian team but to come back after that and get two wins says a lot about the heart of this team. I was proud of our effort all three days.”
The Lady Titans in the finale used a pair of runs at the beginning of each half to gain an advantage and made it an uphill battle for the Lady Warriors most of the game.
McDowell led wire to wire, scoring the first 11 points of the game over a span of five-plus minutes. Hayley Creasman (15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) had eight of those points in that span.
Erwin gradually chipped away at the deficit with a lot of that coming from junior post Kaitlyn Messer, who had a game-high 29 points.
The Lady Warriors on a couple opportunities had the McDowell lead to as small as four points.
In the opening minutes of the second half the Lady Titans matched their early start with another run of 16-4 over five minutes that blossomed the lead to 46-28 after two free throws by Candace Cooper (8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) at the 2:53 mark.
After that point the game got a lot more interesting when Erwin was able to get the deficit back to a dozen (48-36) after three quarters.
Then, in the fourth, Messer single handedly put the Warriors back in it by scoring all but four points in an 18-9 rally down to the end.
That, plus mounting foul trouble by McDowell’s interior players, made the game close late, however some clutch free throw shooting in the last two minutes by the Lady Titans held off the Warriors charge.
“I was really proud of our intensity and fight throughout the game even in moments where some things were not going our way,” said Kinninger. “I feel like our girls had a little extra fire and motivation going back to our games last year with Erwin late in the season.”
After Messer sank a pair at the line with make it 52-50 with 2:11 left, Dezi Williams quickly answered for McDowell with two free throws of her own five seconds later on a drive in the lane and foul.
Messer answered with a basket with 1:58 left on a rebound and put-back, again making it a two-point game. However, the Lady Warriors never got any closer.
Zoe Miller hit two big free throws with 1:07 left and then Cooper was fouled on a drive and made one of two with 42 seconds left which preserved the victory.
Williams (6 assists, 4 rebounds) finished with 10 points. Lily McKinney (14 rebounds), Miller (2 rebounds) and Makayla Brewer (8 rebounds) finished with eight points apiece.
Brewer left the game in the final two minutes of play after coming down awkwardly on a rebound attempt against Messer in the paint. The early prognosis for Brewer was a hyper-extension of her left knee.
McDowell returns to Northwestern Conference play on Wednesday at Watauga.