LAURINBURG — All season long, it was two-horse race for the Southeastern Conference girls basketball championship.
Scotland and Lumberton were clearly the cream of the conference crop, but the Scots and Pirates were never able to distance themselves from one another as they swept through the SEC slate. The rivals split their two meetings, and they shared the regular season title with identical 9-1 records.
On Friday night, however, one school finally rose above the other.
In an SEC championship game that seemed inevitable since the start of the conference season, Lumberton defeated Scotland 64-57 to claim the conference tournament crown.
“It’s always a hard-fought game, Scotland has a great team. They do a great job with their kids. We were fortunate to win,” said Lumberton head coach Danny Graham after his squad finished posing with the SEC championship trophy.
“We didn’t make a whole lot of shots early, but we made some big ones there at the end that kind of got us going.”
Indeed, the Pirates converted timely shots when they mattered most. Lumberton (22-2, 9-1 SEC) was in control for most of the contest, but Scotland (17-9, 9-1 SEC) attempted several rallies that ultimately fell short.
Lumberton led 48-41 entering the fourth quarter, but Scotland, led by the play of spirited senior Ashlyn Dial, closed the gap to 52-50 with four minutes remaining. But Jasmine McBride, who tallied a game-high 22 points for the Pirates, hit back-to-back shots in the lane to widen the margin to six.
Then, with 1:40 to play and Lumberton nursing a 58-54 advantage, Mariah Locklear drained a clutch 3-pointer from the left wing to increase the lead to seven, all but ending the Scots’ comeback bid.
“I knew they were going to make run after run after run, it was just a great game all around,” Graham said.
Scotland head coach Janie Hodges said afterward that missed opportunities was the theme of her team’s loss. The Scots missed more than a half-dozen layups and point-blank shots in the paint throughout the course of the game, and those misfires ultimately cost Scotland a chance at a championship.
“We missed a lot of easy layups, a lot of point-blank shots around the rim,” Hodges said. “(There was a) lack of focus and a lack of desire to want to finish those layups because we had several second and third opportunities and we just couldn’t put it in the basket. The ball just didn’t fall in our favor tonight.”
The Scots also shot 10-for-23 from the free-throw line, missing multiple attempts from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter that could have helped them get back in it.
“It’s hard to win a game when you miss that many opportunities at the free-throw line, especially in a game where they capitalized off of our mistakes,” Hodges said.
A sloppy first quarter saw the two teams head into the second period knotted at 9-all, but Lumberton built a 26-21 lead at the break as London Thompson and McBride notched six points apiece in the quarter. At one point, the Pirates trailed 17-11 but took the lead for good after going on an 11-0 run.
McBride continued her strong play in the third, hitting two 3-pointers and teammate Randi Bullard also added a pair of shots from beyond the arc. ShanQaylia Stanton kept the Scots in it with nine third-quarter points, but Lumberton still held a seven-point lead entering the final frame.
The Pirates made the first basket of the fourth quarter to increase their advantage to nine, but Dial, who scored 11 of her team-high 19 points in the period, refused to let her team go away quietly. She sank a 3-pointer, and drilled two shots while driving through heavy traffic in the paint to make it a one possession game.
But it wasn’t enough as Lumberton made the plays it needed to make down the stretch the seal the victory.
“Ashlyn played big tonight, she was composed,” Hodges said. “I just wish everybody wanted it as bad as she did, you could tell from the floor that we had one or two players that didn’t want to buy in to what everyone else was doing. You can’t win a game with two or three when you’re playing against five.”
Khasiya Sellers finished with 15 points and 18 rebounds for the Scots, and Stanton added 14 points and nine assists. Thompson chipped in 11 for the Pirates.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.