CCHS girls hold off Stone Memorial in thriller

Jan. 25—The folklore of the seventh district in Class 3A girls' basketball is legendary. Coaches talk about the talent level being so high, teams often beat up on each other during league play.

After all, in the latest Associated Press state poll, three teams from the district are part of the Top 10.

Tuesday night, Cumberland County, currently the 10th-ranked team in the state, had to go all 32 minutes before finishing off hard-charging Stone Memorial 45-42.

"We knew this was going to be hard," said CCHS coach Kim Cram-Torres. "We knew we hadn't played in 11 days, but we told our kids that every kid in this county, including basketball players, has been going through the same thing. So, there are no excuses tonight."

The win improves Cumberland County to 14-5 on the year and 2-2 in district play. Stone Memorial falls to 8-11 and 1-3 in league play.

"We've talked a lot this season about competing, and giving your best all the time, and I think they're starting to understand that," said SMHS coach Mike Buck, whose team's district losses have been by an average of five points.

"Now, we need to get some confidence to go make some plays down the stretch."

And big plays were the key.With the game knotted at 40 with 5:04 to play in the game, both teams missed numerous attempts at the basket.

Stone's Kortney Headrick scored on a layup, while CCHS followed with two points each from Sydney Wilhite and Alexis Carroll to make it 44-42 with less than a minute to play.

The Lady Jets had the ball with the opportunity to run out the clock, but an errant pass turned the ball over with 39 ticks on the clock.

Unfortunately for SMHS fans, Stone also turned the ball over on the following play. CCHS got a free throw from Aliyah Hawkins to seal the win.

"I thought we were very mentally tough tonight, and I thought we were physically tough," Cram-Torres said. "And we had some kids step up tonight and make some big plays for sure."

"We were trying to do what was easy on offense," Buck said. "Early CCHS. wasn't gambling as much on defense, so we were able to play at our pace. They picked the pressure up later, so we had to change our game plan a little."

Stone came out pretty deliberate in what it wanted to do. The Lady Panthers got buckets from Kortney Headrick and Rachel Houston, but CCHS answered with baskets from Sydney Wilhite and Hawkins to hold an 11-8 lead after the first period.

The Lady Panthers picked the pace up in the second period, working off of Kailee Waldo, Houston and Adison Howard to head into halftime with a 29-25 advantage.

"At halftime, we let them know we could have been up even more than we were," said Buck about his halftime speech. "We followed the scouting report pretty well, but when we didn't they made us pay, and that's what good teams do."

"Stone is so long and so big, and I knew they would send a lot of different defensive stuff at us," Cram-Torres said. "They chose not to guard one of our players [Daminica Beal] and we told her we needed her to make some some shots, and she did. We want to give her the credit for stepping up."

Cumberland County rallied in the third period behind some good shooting from the field to lead 37-36 going into the final eight minutes.

Beal answered with her third 3-pointer to open the quarter to make it 40-36, but Stone came back with four free throws, two each from Headrick and Houston to knot the score at 40.

"We had the advantage inside with the bigs [Headrick and Waldo], so we wanted to play through them as much as possible," Buck said.

"We had several opportunities early in the game, and late in the game I think we had buckets we left out on the floor."

"We kept letting the high post dive, so we had to make that adjustment," Cram-Torres said. "They were getting too many easy cuts. We figured it out and eventually took that away. I am just happy we responded mentally tough at the end."

Wilhite led Cumberland County with 12 points on the night. Beal and Hawkins had 9 each. Carroll scored 8, while Lauren Clark scored 4 and Jalynn Baldwin tallied 3.

Headrick had 10 points to set the pace for Stone Memorial. Houston tallied 8, while Howard scored 7. Waldo and Ashley Whittenburg scored 6 each. Lily Hinch had 5.

Cumberland County will visit Livingston Academy Jan. 26 before hosting DeKalb County Jan. 30. Stone will visit Upperman Jan. 26 and then travel to Smithville Jan. 27 for a battle at DeKalb County.

"I am very proud of our kids," said Buck. "When we are able to get things together, and do things the right way, we have the opportunity to compete with anyone in this league."

"We've been talking about getting back on track because I don't think we've been playing great," Cram-Torres said. "This was the first step to getting back to playing the way we know we can play."