02/20/05 — Goldsboro women close out ECC 3-A era with title

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Goldsboro women close out ECC 3-A era with title

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 20, 2005 2:03 AM

An unlikely hero.

Goldsboro senior Nickie Garner came into Saturday's Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference tournament championship game against Charles B. Aycock averaging 3.5 points in the first two tourney games.

With her team trailing by five with 2:30 left and starting point guard Chevoya Jackson having just fouled out, Garner stepped up when it counted most. On consecutive possessions, Garner knocked down two 3-pointers from the right wing to give her team the lead for good in a hard-fought, 51-44 win at the Cougar Den over Aycock.

"I had to help bring the team up. I was missing some shots down at the other end in the first half," Garner said. "We were down, and I had to help the team out. I told the bench we had to step up when they got in foul trouble. There are only four of us on the bench, and we just had to step it up."

In next year's realignment, Goldsboro will move to the Eastern Plains 2-A Conference. Dating back to the middle of the 2002 season, the Cougars closed out play in the ECC on a 41-game winning streak against conference foes.

"This has been very special. I'm going to miss this," Goldsboro coach Gladys McClary said about leaving the conference. "Not taking anything away from the 2-A conference, but I don't think you can find a classier group of coaches than this conference.

"I was happy that we had won, but I knew that I was leaving a group of guys that you just couldn't top."

Goldsboro won its 10th straight overall dating back to a Jan. 10 loss at North Lenoir, while the Falcons lost their first game since falling to the Cougars just over one month ago.

The top-seeded Cougars will open up the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs on Thursday -- facing the winner of Tuesday's match-up between the Big Eight North No. 3 and Eastern Carolina No. 3. Aycock hosts Smithfield-Selma (Big Eight South No. 4) in the first round on Tuesday.

"I'm very proud of them. It was a game of runs and they got the last one," Aycock coach Gary Hales said. "Our game plan worked to a tee, but they had a player step up and make some big shots. We tried to rotate players in and wear them down and at times we did, but we would relax a little bit and let them back in it."

"That was as good a high school girls game I have ever seen."

With fellow starters Ashelyn James, Carmille Early and Jackson in foul trouble for most of the game, senior forward Jessica Faison added her biggest game of the tournament with 15 points, including three-of-four from the free throw line in the fourth period.

The Golden Falcons led for most of the first half -- posting their biggest lead at 19-13 on an assist from Quaneisha Milner to Stewart down low. Keyata Pettiford, who turned in a team-best 11 points, added four-straight points in the second to help her team go up 24-19 with two minutes left.

Goldsboro recovered before intermission as James scored on a pass from Jackson, then posted a put-back to close out a 6-0 run before the half.

The Cougars took a slim, 25-24 lead into intermission.

Foul trouble continued to plague Goldsboro's leading scorers through the third with James picking up her fourth early in the third, while Jackson got her third midway through the period. Still, keyed by three-of-four by Early at the line and solid defense, Goldsboro managed a 7-0 spurt in the first 4:30 of the third.

The Falcons countered as Lela Reid's basket underneath at the three-minute mark proved to be Aycock's first points of the period -- starting a 7-0 Falcon run. Jazzmine Lee's steal and hoop pulled Aycock back within one at 32-31.

The third ended just as it started with Goldsboro up by one.

In a physical, game of runs, the Falcons outscored the Cougars 7-2 out of the gate leading up to the 2:30 mark and Garner's pair of 3-pointers. Emily Stewart paced Aycock during the fourth with seven of her 10 points.

The Falcons finished with 27 turnovers on the game, including one miscue wedged between Garner's shots from behind the arc. For the tournament, the Cougars forced a whopping, 86 turnovers. For most of the game, Aycock's defense matched Goldsboro as the Cougars committed 20 turnovers.

A put-back by Stewart answered a basket by the Cougars at the 1:16 mark as Aycock coach Gary Hales quickly called a timeout. Faison then drove to the basket and scored, before the Falcons missed a pair at the stripe with just under one minute left.

Mikeda Graham, who added nine points, knocked two-of-two to stretch the lead to five -- helping the Cougars put the game away at the line.

"This was a game from the very start. They played aggressive, we played aggressive. Our work was cut out for us when Carmille got her two fouls in the first quarter," McClary said. "Coach Hales is a great coach. He kept subbing in and out, but we kept trying to talk to the girls about the mistakes they made and they listened. That was the key. They listened."

"When Chevoya fouled out, it made no difference to these players. You expect so much from your seniors, and Nickie stepped up and made those threes when we needed them most."