As the minutes passed, only a glimmer of hope remained for the Bishop McGuinness girls. Not much had gone the Villains’ way through three quarters and certainly things weren’t looking good.
But then suddenly — amazingly — Bishop pulled off what moments before seemed almost impossible.
The Villains, who trailed most of the game, rallied from an 11-point deficit with 5:48 left to beat River Mill 57-52 on Saturday afternoon in N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum and capture their eighth-straight NCHSAA 1A state championship title.
“We just stuck with the system and we didn’t panic,” Bishop coach Brian Robinson said. “Everything we’ve done all year has been based on trust. We talked (in a late timeout) about just trusting what got you here. It’s going to work. We don’t need to change or reinvent the wheel. And they did just that.”
The Villains (25-7) struggled with turnovers, missed shots and missed assignments through three quarters. The Jaguars (28-4) led by eight after one quarter, five at halftime and eight heading to the fourth, fending off Bishop’s every push within a couple points.
They scored five straight early in the fourth to lead the Villains 50-39 with 5:48 left. But from that point on, Bishop rode a wave of momentum to 15 straight points to lead 54-50 with 1:56 left and 18 of the game’s final 20 points to extend its record-setting streak of state titles.
“I was missing quite a few shots, and when I came out Coach R. just said, ‘Keep shooting. It’s OK. You’re taking good shots,’” said Julia Brown, a junior forward. “I kind of took that and just thought, ‘Just keep shooting and they’ll eventually go in.’ And they eventually did start going in — thankfully.”
Brown scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the Villains, who outscored River Mill 20-7 in the fourth quarter, while freshman guard Tia Cappuccio and junior forward Cameron Nieters each finished with 12 points.
Brown was named the Kay Yow Most Valuable Player while Nieters was selected the West’s Most Outstanding Player. Lenaira Ruffin, who led the Jaguars with 17 points and 15 rebounds, was named the East’s Most Outstanding Player.
During the final run, Cappuccio hit a 3 to cut it to seven, then Brown hit a shot in the key to pull within five. After the Jaguars missed the front end of a one-and-one, Olivia DeFrancesco snagged a long pass and drove the basket, making the shot and drawing a foul.
“When I saw the ball in the air, I was just like, ‘Make sure you go to it — even if you get railed or anything,’” said DeFrancesco, a junior guard. “I was going to get the ball — I wasn’t going to let the other girl get it — and I just took it hard to the basket.”
That brought Bishop within two with 2:56 left. Nieters then hit a 3 from the left corner with 2:24 left to lead 51-48, and Cappuccio followed with a 3 from the right corner — that Robinson later admitted with a smile he wasn’t exactly thrilled with — to lead 54-50 with 1:56 left.
“Well, I didn’t really see him telling me to stop,” Cappuccio said with a laugh. “I was feeling it, so … “
The Jaguars, who featured only seven players on their roster (including four who played 26 minutes or more), then missed on three of their final four possessions, as the Villains hit three free throws over the final minute to complete their comeback.