GREENSBORO — Kate Hollifield couldn’t bare to lift her head, the Shelby girls basketball standout’s hands and flowing hair being used to shield the masses from the tears flowing down her face. Teammate Maraja Pass valiantly held her head high, albeit in a daze hoping that she could wake up from a bad dream.
Suddenly and cruelly, the Lady Lions’ pursuit of back-to-back titles was over.
A highly anticipated matchup between a pair of West 2A’s best needed two overtimes to decide a winner, a bucket by Salisbury’s Jamecia Huntley with 8.5 seconds left giving her team a 45-44 win over Shelby at Grimsley High School in Greensboro.
“We had our opportunities, man. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for,” said Shelby girls basketball coach Scooter Lawrence. “We had multiple shots, multiple chances to take them out. In regulation, first and second overtime we had chances, but we couldn’t get the ball to go our way.”
Last season, the two powerhouse programs matched wits in Salisbury, Shelby parlaying a 48-46 victory over the Hornets into a state 2A championship. Early on, it seemed as if the Lady Lions might be on their way to another berth in the title game, pushing its lead to 15-7.
But as would become characteristic of the entire afternoon, Salisbury battled back.
“Shelby is a great team, they came to us last year and beat us by two,” said Salisbury girls basketball coach Lakai Brice. “But I told our girls we have to stick together, we’re a totally different team and we have to stick with what we do. I knew this was going to be a battle, but I also knew our girls were not going to back down.”
Down five at the break, the Hornets claimed their first lead since the opening minutes with a 9-2 spurt to start the second half, taking a 28-26 advantage. A Kate Hollifield bucket would tie the game at 28-all, where it would stand going into the fourth.
A 4-point play by Pass to start the period seemingly stunted Salisbury’s momentum, but a 3-pointer by Makayla Noble cut the lead to one. After Ally Hollifield drained a pair of free throws and sister Kate hit a jumper, the Lady Lions led by five, 36-31.
Silent much of the afternoon, Salisbury junior guard Kyla Bryant made her presence known in the fourth with a 3-pointer to cut the Shelby lead to two, 36-34. Mary Morgan then followed with a bucket of her own to again knot things up, this time at 36-all.
According to Brice, she felt her role players could leave a mark on the game moreso than those on the Shelby side.
“We just didn’t want (Shelby role players) to beat us,” she said. “The Hollifield sisters, Maraja, they are three of the most talented guards in the state. But I believe our guards are pretty good too, and (Bryant) really did a good job controlling the game’s pace today.
“(Hartgrove) made three or four shots in their last game, and we couldn’t have that if we wanted to win. Our role players had to outplay theirs.”
The teams went into the first overtime tied 38-all, each scoring only a bucket in the frame. Shelby scored each of the first three points of the second overtime from the free throw line, with Salisbury’s Rachel McCullough getting a miracle shot from the baseline to go, plus the foul. After making her free throw, Shelby split a pair of free throws on the opposite end of the floor to take a 44-43 lead with a minute remaining.
Played in a phone booth much of the afternoon, it was fitting a scramble play proved to be the difference. After a long rebound, Bryant hit Huntley under the basket, the junior calmly lifting the shot for two and the winner.
Shelby had a good look at the bucket in the game’s waning seconds, but could not get any of them to fall. “Just the way the ball bounces sometimes. It’s tough, but we’ll get back to work soon and try to get back to this point," Lawrence said.
Pass led Shelby with 16 points, while Kate Hollifield added 14 in her final game as a Lady Lions before heading to Belmont University (Tennessee) to continue her playing career.
Bryant had a team-high 13 points for Salisbury, with McCullough finishing with 11 points.
Shelby’s season ends at 22-3.
You can reach Joe Hughes at 704-914-8138, email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @JoeLHughesII.
This article originally appeared on The Shelby Star: Shelby girls hoops falls in double overtime of West 2A final