Harrah took advantage of a Cashion dry spell to open the fourth quarter and scooted past the Lady Wildcats 49-38 in the championship game of the 2017 Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic Saturday night before a good crowd inside ECU’s Kerr Activities Center.
The Lady Panthers, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, improved to 10-0 on the season with the victory. Cashion (No. 2 in Class 2A) lost for the first time, falling to 8-1.
Harrah head coach Jeff Mahoney said the title game win wasn’t exactly a work of art, but he and his team will take it.
“Neither team played as good as probably they normally would. It was a battle. We just beat a really, really good basketball team,” Mahoney said during his club’s postgame celebration. “Playing over Christmas, you’re not in really good shape and everyone is battling the flu bug. Today was kind of ugly on both ends.”
Tatum Robison opened the fourth quarter with a basket for Cashion that knotted the score at 30-30. Harrah then used a game-deciding 9-0 surge that put the Lady Panthers ahead 39-30 with just 2:30 left in the contest.
Harrah’s talented post player Ali Brzozowski had three big baskets (six points) during the critical HHS run. A member of the all-tournament team, Brzozowski finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three steals in the contest.
During most of that Harrah volley, Cashion playmaker Sydney Manning was on the bench after suffering a back injury. She returned later in the period, but most of the HHH damage had already been done by then.
Manning, also on the all-tournament team, finished with 13 points, 16 rebounds (all in the first three periods) and three steals. Her only points in the final quarter came from a 3-point basket with 27.5 seconds left that trimmed the HHS lead to 47-36.
“I think our kids played hard. There were some big momentum swings in the game,” said Cashion head coach Totsy Manning.
“I think our defense was solid most of the night. We had lots of opportunities. We just didn’t do a great job of executing on offense for four quarters. We had a tough time scoring at times,” she continued.
It was Cashion that got off to a hot start. After Tatum Robinson scored a basket inside off a super assist from Manning, the Lady Wildcats led 10-4 late in the first period. Harrah was ice cold through the first eight minutes. The Lady Panthers made just 2-of-14 shots (14.3 percent) to start the game.
Harrah scored the first six points to start the second quarter to tie things up at 10-10.
The Lady Panthers led just 16-15 after Talli Robinson of Cashion hit a free shot with 2:25 left in the second period. Harrah then put together a 10-1 run that ended the second period and carried into the third.
Tournament MVP Erika Ankney, who scored her 1,000th career point in the first round of the tournament score the first five points of the surge. Kiara Lovings, another all-tournament team and a member of the 1,000-point club, hit a 3-pointer early in the third quarter to put the Lady Panthers ahead 26-16.
Cashion answered by reeling off the next nine points of the game — including a pair of buckets by Presley Payahsape and a 3-point shot from Robison. Payahsape’s steal and layup at the 4:31 mark of the third period got Cashion within 26-25.
Sydney Manning hit two free throws with 2:15 left and Payahsape — added another free shot 45 seconds later to cut the CHS deficit to 30-28 heading to the fourth period.
Ankney, who shot just 9-of-35 in Harrah’s last two tournament games, still scored a team-high 17 points to pace the Lady Panthers. She hit 9-of-14 free throws and had four assists and two steals.
Karlie Owens added seven points and nine rebounds for Cashion.
Brzozowski, who is around 50 points from joining Ankney and Lovings with 1,000 points, finished 6-of-13 from the field and also blocked three shots.
“We’re fixing to have three of them (with 1,000 points). That’s quite a deal. They play hard. They’ll play defense. They’re great kids,” Mahoney said. “My whole group is a bunch of good kids and they’re fun to be around. I’ll go anywhere with them.”
Mahoney said his team will benefit from its Mid-America experience.
“It’s a really good measuring stick at mid-term. You kind of find out what you need to work on. If you don’t do something very well, the coaches are so good down here, they’ll expose you,” he said. “We’re looking forward to a few days off. We don’t play again until the ninth of January.”
While second place isn’t too shabby in the 2017 Mid-America field, Totsy Manning said her team expected to leave with the championship trophy.
“Two wins is good, but we had expectations to win it. It was good for us. We can learn a lot from this game, take it home with us and go back to the drawing board and get better,” she said.