MORGANTON – Teams in any sport you can sometimes overcome a bad start. However, anything other than a strong finish will yield undesirable results nearly every time.
The McDowell Lady Titans composed a valiant effort for three quarters against long-time rival Freedom, but the Lady Patriots seized control and dominated the fourth quarter in a 63-40 win in Morganton Tuesday night.
With the exception of just 13 seconds, Freedom led the contest wire-to-wire to improve to 15-1 overall and a perfect 6-0 in Northwestern 3A/4A play.
The win opens up a two-game lead for Freedom in the loss column. McDowell (11-6 overall, 5-2 NWC), Hickory and Watauga are all tied for second in league play.
McDowell had its chances to forge a tie for first place.
Freedom led 29-17 at the half, and the lead remained at a dozen until late in the third quarter when McDowell scored the final eight points of the frame to suddenly pull to within two possessions.
Candace Cooper hit a pair of 3s, one from each corner, in the final minute. Those shots, plus a Naliyah Boyce layup off an Alana Stephenson assist, gave McDowell a chance going into the fourth quarter trailing 37-33.
But as quickly as that materialized, Freedom swept the momentum away, dominating the fourth quarter with a 26-7 period to pull away.
Boyce hit a shot in the paint with 6:30 left to keep the Lady Titans’ deficit at 40-35.
But it was at that poin the Lady Patriots went on a decisive 11-1 run in the next two minutes.
Blaikely Crooks (15 points) sank a pair of free throws at the 5:55 mark after being fouled on a drive attempt. Madison Bailey then made a 3-pointer twenty seconds later.
Then, after a Boyce free throw made it 45-36 with 5:11 left, Freedom countered with six consecutive free throws, including four straight from freshman guard Christena Rhone that inflated the lead to 51-36 with 4:12 left. The Lady Patriots’ lead never got any lower the rest of the way.
Bailey (15 points) along with Adair Garrison’s 18 points gave Freedom three players in double figures. The trio accounted for more than three-quarters of the scoring production in the game.
Dezi Williams (2 steals) and Cooper scored nine points each to lead McDowell. Makaylah Chandler added six points and Boyce (7 rebounds) had five. Zoe Miller and Makenna Parkins had four points apiece and Stephenson finished with three.
The contest on Tuesday night continues Freedom’s upper hand in the rivalry over the past several years. The Lady Patriots have won eight in a row. McDowell’s last win came in December of 2014, a 70-53 win at McDowell; the Lady Titans’ last win on Freedom’s home court was a 59-47 win back in December of 2013.
McDowell returns to Titan Gym on Friday, hosting Hickory to kick off the second half of the Northwestern 3A/4A schedule.