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A milestone opportunity eluded the Southern Nash High varsity girls basketball team Friday evening in being turned back 42-32 by West Johnston in the Southern Nash gym.
Coming off Wednesday night’s win at Bunn, the Ladybirds needed a victory to win for the fifth time this season and exceed the total win number in the first three seasons of head coach Jordan Bass.
But Southern Nash of the 3-A Big East Conference tumbled to 4-7, while the Lady Wildcats of the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference improved to 7-6 in defeating the Ladybirds for the second time this season.
“We lost to them in the first game of the season,” Bass noted, “but we didn’t feel like they were that much better than we were. This was definitely a winnable game and we thought we could go 2-0 this week.”
But with the score knotted 32-32, the Ladybirds did not score the final five-plus minutes. West Johnston finally encountered success at the foul line in pulling away with 10 unanswered points.
A field goal from West Johnston junior Kaitllyn Tucker snapped the 32-32 deadlock and the Lady Wildcats wrapped up the outcome on the scoring of 5-foot-10 senior Cassidy Crist and Tucker.
“A huge difference was that our two post players (Crist and sophomore Lexie Lamm) had really, really great games,” West Johnston head coach Laura Jefferson explained. “We knew that Southern Nash was scrappy, boxed out well and had height. Our post players did a good job of boxing out and getting rebounds.
“Also, we know to keep the ball in Tucker’s hands. She gets fouled and shoots well from the free-throw line. We are a very aggressive, hardworking team and most of (the players) are Division I softball players. We are consistent in that we have fouls and turnovers.”
The contest was turnover- and foul-marred. The Ladybirds were whistled for 24 fouls and the Lady Wildcats for 14. Southern Nash sank just 2-of-8 free-throw attempts as compared to 11-of-23 for West Johnston.
Of the final five-plus scoreless Southern Nash minutes, Bass commented: “They actually switched defenses, which is what we wanted her to do. But we couldn’t get the offense set up right. We had crucial turnovers. Fouls hurt us — girls had to come out of the game.”
Southern Nash’s Jalisa Williams, a 6-foot junior and an inside presence, picked up two quick fouls and West Johnston capitalized by snapping a 4-4 tie with a 7-0 run and claiming a 11-7 edge after one-quarter.
Crist came off the bench to spark the Lady Wildcats to a 17-9 advantage. But the Ladybirds whittled the deficit to 21-19 at intermission on the perimeter shooting and drives of senior Stacie Winner and junior Rayna Bailey.
The third quarter proved the most productive for Southern Nash. Winner’s 3-pointer bombed the Ladybirds ahead 25-23 and the margin reached 29-24. West Johnston was without a third-quarter field goal until Crist connected with 38 seconds remaining.
West Johnston needed less than two minutes to reclaim the lead the final quarter. The Ladybirds pulled even at 32-32 on senior Krystal Taybron’s basket. Southern Nash would not score again.
“The girls played hard,” Bass credited his Ladybirds. “But they made plays toward the end and we didn’t.”
Crist wound up with 12 points and five rebounds for West Johnston, while Tucker notched 11 points and eight rebounds. Seniors Savannah Craft and Ivy Maldonaldo each grabbed seven rebounds, and Maldonado and Tucker each recorded five steals.
Winner’s game-high 13 points paced the Ladybirds, while Bailey canned nine.
“This is definitely our best team,” Bass declared, “and they have improved a lot. Maybe we can sneak up on a couple of conference teams.”