Villains reach eighth straight state title game
For the third straight year, Cherokee gave the Bishop McGuinness girls a very tough game. Just as the two previous games, though, the Villains came through.
With their 58-56 win against the Braves, the Villains won the Western Regional championship Saturday in UNCG’s Fleming Gymnasium for the eighth year in a row and will play River Mill on Saturday at noon in N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum in search of their eighth straight 1A state championship.
“We’re very excited about winning the game and moving on to the state championship,” Bishop coach Brian Robinson said. “It’s pretty amazing that we’ve done this now for eight years in a row. Cherokee pushed us to the limit, but we didn’t expect anything less from them. It got a little hairy at the end, but we made some plays when we had to.”
Julia Brown scored 14 points to lead a well-rounded offensive effort by the Villains (23-7), who had five players finish with at least eight points — and several more make key plays — while the Braves had just two. Tessa Johnston also had 13 points while Cameron Nieters added 11 points.
“It’s a lot more fun when we all work together,” said Brown, a junior forward. “When we’re all working together, you can tell that we all feed off each other’s good things we do. When we’re playing well together, we do a lot of good things off our defense. We know that when we look up the floor our teammates are going to be there.
“We know on defense that when we rotate our teammates are going to have our backs. And when we’re working together like that, it just works really well. We all do our share — if it happens to be this many points or this little points, it doesn’t matter because it’s what we do to win the game.”
After trailing by seven in the opening moments and 16-12 after one quarter, Bishop, recovering from its turnover-filled start, outscored Cherokee 16-6 over the first 6 1/2 minutes of the second to lead 28-22 with 1:36 left in the half and led at halftime, 30-28.
The Braves regained the briefly, 38-37 with 3:34 left in the third, before the Villains went on an 11-5 spurt to lead 48-43 with a minute left in the quarter. They led 48-45 heading to the fourth and stretched it to 53-45 a minute in before Cherokee rallied.
The Braves drew within two with 1:50 left and, without standout Avery Mintz, who fouled out with 1:39 left, set up for a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left. But it just missed off the rim. Bishop rebounded, and Brown hit two free throws with 10 seconds left.
“We talked in the huddle about not letting (the shooter) get free,” Robinson said. “Somehow, she snuck through and got open again. And as soon as she caught it, my first thought was, ‘Oh no.’ Fortunately, the shot was short — she’d made two just before that — we got the rebound, and Julia made her two free throws.
“It’s been like that for us at times in these playoffs. We’ve dodged some bullets and we keep surviving.”
Mintz, the regional MVP, had 30 points and 13 rebounds to lead Cherokee (28-2) while Jordyn Thompson added eight points. Nieters, Olivia DeFrancesco, Johnston and Brown were named to the all-regional team for the Villains, who faced River Mill in the regional semis last year.
“You couldn’t ask for a better start than that,” Braves coach Chris Mintz said. “But we just went into a shell there for about two or three minutes and let them get right back. We had a chance to string it out even a little more, but they did a good job of coming back and not panicking.
“They’re just solid at every spot. They shot the ball well from 3 — they hit some long-distance 3s. And when they got hot they went on runs of eight or 10 points in a hurry. They’re solid on defense and they make you work for everything you get on offense.”