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Sugar Bears cruise to victory with battle for first place on-deck

Jan. 8—The Pisgah Sugar Bears have started the new year off on a winning streak with two solid wins over familiar foes, with a showdown against the conference's top team impending.

Pisgah capped 2023 with a 2-1 record in a Christmas tournament hosted by Swain County High School in Bryson City.

The Sugar Bears fell 68-53 to Mount Tabor in the opening round to find themselves in the consolation bracket. The Spartans outscored Pisgah in every frame (16-12, 17-15, 18-12 and 17-14) to take the opening game.

"We played a really good Mount Tabor team that had good size and good guard play," said Pisgah head coach Brandon Holloway. "Our girls competed well, and we made big runs here and there. We just couldn't close the gap. They were able to get it inside a little bit more than we wanted."

Pisgah was paced by returning senior Whitney Boone, who scored a team-leading 14 points to go along with six rebounds, five steals and one assist.

Senior Dot Mills was second with 12 points, and sophomore Bailey Conner rounded out the double-digit scorers with 11 points. Mills, Conner and sophomore Chandler Lowery all tied for the team lead with seven rebounds, while Mills led the Sugar Bears with five assists. Mills and Lowery each tallied a team-leading six steals.

Pisgah then walloped Asheville 64-38, outpacing the Cougars in every frame: 22-12, 15-6, 17-13 and 10-7. Lowery had one of her best games of the season, leading the team with 17 points to accompany five assists, three rebounds and two steals.

Mills and Boone capped the team's double-digit scorers with 16 and 11 points, respectively. Mills led the girls in all other categories, including eight assists, six rebounds and three steals.

"I wasn't sure how the girls would respond the next night, but they came with a bit of fire and grit about them and determination to get back on track," Holloway said. "I was super pleased with the defensive effort against Asheville, and the momentum carried over to the next day against ACA."

The Sugar Bears capped the tournament with a resounding 60-12 victory over Asheville Christian Academy. Pisgah held the Lions scoreless in the opening frame, outpacing ACA 15-0 and then 23-9 in the second to take a commanding halftime lead. The Sugar Bears would do the same in the third quarter, outsourcing ACA 18-0 before a defensive battle ensued in the fourth, but Pisgah outscored the Lions 4-3 to cap the game.

Three Sugar bears tallied double-digit points: Mills (12), Lowery (11) and Boone (11). Mils led the girls with seven rebounds and four steals, while the aforementioned scorers were tied for the lead with four assists.

Pisgah opened 2024 with a 20-point victory (58-38) over the Swain County Maroon Devils.

Although the Maroon Devils outpaced the Sugar Bears 7-4 in the opening quarter, Pisgah responded with a 19-10 second to take a 23-17 halftime lead. The Sugar Bears commanded the second half, outpacing the Maroon Devils 14-12 and 21-9 over the final two frames to win the game.

"Against Swain, we had another poor shooting night early on, but our girls kept pushing the tempo," Holloway said. "In the fourth, we shot 67% and pulled away from them. That was big for their confidence."

Mills recorded a double-double against Swain, scoring a team-high 16 points to accompany a team-high 13 rebounds. The senior also led the team with seven assists.

Lowery (15) and senior Karlie Robinson (12) rounded out the Sugar Bears' double-digit scorers.

Pisgah followed up that win with a close 39-31 victory over the Franklin Panthers at home. Holloway said it was difficult for either team to score because both teams played extremely well defensively.

"Franklin has two solid posts and solid guards," Holloway said. "This is as good as defensively as we've played lately, on the perimeter and inside. We're going to have to hang our hat on that when our shots aren't going."

Against Franklin, however, Holloway said he saw flashes of the team's potential.

"We had stretches throughout this game where we got hot and made shots where it counted. If we can get that more consistently, it'll help us later on in the ballgame," he said.

Holloway said the team plans to carry its streak through the month of January.

"Historically, we've been a really good January team. That's what we plan to keep doing," Holloway said. "You use the November and December non-conference games to put the ingredients together before you start cooking."

The cooking begins when Pisgah goes on the road twice this week against two Mountain 7 foes: West Henderson on Tuesday, Jan. 9 and cross-county rival Tuscola on Friday, Dec. 12. The Falcons (9-4, 3-0) are one of the Mountain 7's best teams.

"We know (West Henderson) will have the majority of their girls back. They've got a very talented group of guards they play. We'll have to match their intensity and know that we're going to get their best shot," Holloway said.

Pisgah played the Falcons four times last year — twice in the regular season, once in the conference tournament and once in the state playoffs — and won every game.

"We know they're going to be hungry to try to knock us off even though they've been kind of the preseason pick in the conference," Holloway said. "I feel confident our girls will match up and give them a game Tuesday night. We've got to slow them down, take care of the basketball and get some good looks to make some baskets."