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Lady Horses rally in late game

Jan. 5—The Lady Horses arrived at Union High looking to keep their win streak alive. They had to go through the Lady Spartans in a dramatic game that fizzled out in the fourth, leaving Union holding the loss. Clinton snatched their sixth straight win, 61-41.

The game began with neither able to gain a significant advantage and the stout defenses prevented the contest from getting out of hand. The Dark Horses continued to pick at the Spartan zone and made headway with Ava Williford using her height and speed to bully her way into the paint to give them a three point lead, 6-3.

Centavia McKoy woke up the Spartan fans with a deep snipe shot, tying it up at six all. The Dark Horses lost their footing and Union was able to get back the advantage before the frame ended off some strong play, 12-9.

In the next round, the visitors became emboldened and used their physicality to pull back into the game. Union began to stumble and found themselves tripping over their own feet, quite literally, which resulted in the Dark Horses scooping up the loose balls on the court. They weren't able to capitalize on some but it was enough to push them forward.

Within one, Union was tied up with the Horses following the sluggish play and awkward moves with five minutes left in the game. The Lady Spartans were able to clean up the play, sinking five to pull ahead, but it wouldn't hold. Foul trouble befell Union and between the free throws and a wide open snipe that Ciara Stuart sank beyond the perimeter, the Lady Horses took over the lead once again, 18-17.

The chaos ensued with back to back steals from Stuart and Janiya Moseley pushing Union further in the hole but not by much as the Spartans reacted quickly. Williford would clean up a missed layup for an easy two points to start the Clinton stampede. The back and forth affair was just heating up as Clinton with Stuart and Rubi Davila would add another five with a three pointer and a breakaway layup respectively.

Union was stumbling again with a couple of players falling flat while trying to make the transition up court, leaving them helpless and outnumbered. Evan Gillespie would snag an open basket off a crisp pass from Williford in a crowded lane to put them ahead by 10, 27-17. The battle continued but Union would be rendered inert by the strong play from the Dark Horses, they couldn't overcome the deficit and entering halftime they trailed, 31-21.

Entering the third frame, Union came in with a little more confidence and were able to capitalize on a couple of trips to the charity line. Ariyona Spearman hit four out of five free throws to close the gap, then nail a three from afar to make it, 33-28. The spirited affair saw more bodies hit the court as both willingly charged the paint in an attempt for more scoring. Clinton was running into issues of their own as the frame carried on and Union was stumbled ahead as their unbalanced game was finding a rhythm. The Spartans climbed back into it after some tough sledding against their rivals, nailing a deep shot for three, bringing the lead to within two at 35-33. Everyone began playing with a lot more aggression with Clinton growing frustrated from fouls and Union fighting to regain the lead. Only six points would be added to the board in the final couple of minutes in the third and the Lady Horses saw their lead shrink to just four entering the final frame, 39-35.

The Horses came out more organized and were looking to close out this game for good. Union found heavy resistance in the paint early on, with Clinton picking up the pace in scoring, they retreated to the perimeter and started throwing shots at the basket in desperation. This wasn't working in their favor as the visitors gladly took the uncontested rebounds and brought it back to the Union side. Quickly, the Spartans found themselves in the hole by ten once again at 46-36. From here, there was no stopping the stampeding Horses as they battered Union for the remainder of the game. The home team didn't quit but they could not find their footing, shots off target, poor shot choices and lack of drives to the paint, cost Union dearly. They unraveled in the fourth scoring six to Clinton's 21 and the Dark Horses took the win handedly, 61-41.

"First off, I want to congratulate Clinton on a hard fought win. We didn't play well through the whole game but the first and third quarter was good. It was a tough one and they pulled away from us. We're looking to rebound when we go to Clinton and hope for a better result. I'm proud of our girls because we dug a hole but they kept fighting. We just couldn't get over the hill." Coach Bryan Register told the Independent after the game. He continued, "The biggest fear coming into the night was rust. It was a tough layoff for us and we hadn't played since December 20th."

Lady Horses head coach Chris Owens made a statement after the game, praising Spearman and commenting on how his team did that evening.

"It was a heated game being a rivalry like always. I thought our girls played timidly in the first half, but once we made the corrections and adjustments that we wanted and our defense got after them. We just had to get more aggressive on them, Ariyona is a great player and we just had to contain because you can't stop her. Our team defense just clicked and got together."

The Lady Horses (6-1) extend their streak to six with the big win to close out the week. They will be back in action on Jan. 10 to host Union for a rematch then travel out to West Bladen to face the Knights on Jan. 12.

The Lady Spartans (7-3) will have another go next week at Clinton to avenge Thursday's loss in their sole game of the week.

Reach Anthony McConnaughey at amcconnaughey@clintonnc.com, X @SportsSampson or on the Sampson Independent Facebook page