Clinton’s Lady Dark Horses raced out to an early lead in the NCHSAA 2A State Championship game on Saturday afternoon, and every time North Surry would make a run at them, Clinton had an answer.
Mikayla Boykin broke out of the gates with four first quarter 3-point baskets to stun the Lady Greyhounds and force the methodical North Surry squad to play catch-up very early in the game. Eventually the Lady Greyhounds got on track and led on several occasions in the second quarter, but the Lady Horses refused to leave Raleigh without the championship trophy, pulling away late in the game to capture the 59-49 win and claim Clinton’s third state championship in women’s basketball.
The Lady Greyhounds won the opening tip and it seemed the western champs would be content to play keep away, not taking a shot for nearly a minute and a half into the first quarter. North Surry finally found a shot they liked, but the attempt was off the mark and the Lady Dark Horses rebounded the miss and quickly showed they would not exhibit near the patience that the Lady Greyhounds had displayed on their first possession.
Boykin opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, and Ashlyn Williams forced a turnover near midcourt, found a slashing Alex Canady for an easy score and Boykin followed with another 3-pointer to open up and 8-0 Clinton lead at the 5:03 mark of the first quarter. The scoring flurry put the Lady Greyhounds on their heels, but they were not ready to fold.
North Surry’s freshman Elle Sutphin finally broke the ice putting the Lady Greyhounds on the board with a nice post move to stem the Clinton tide. When Tiana Shuff hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:30 remaining in the quarter, North Surry had cut the Lady Horses’ early lead to two at 10-8, and put Clinton on notice that they had no plans of handing them the game.
As she would do all night, Boykin took control of the game, hitting two consecutive 3-pointers to open the game back up at 16-9 in favor of the Lady Horses with just under 1:30 remaining in the opening frame. Once again, the Lady Greyhounds would answer Boykin’s 3-point barrage, going on a 5-0 run to end the first quarter and cutting the Lady Horses lead to 16-14 at the end of the first.
The second quarter opened with North Surry taking their first lead, at 17-16 at the 7:45 mark. The lead would change hands six times in the second quarter, but the Lady Greyhounds never led by more than a single point. When Clinton capitalized on several North Surry turnovers to go on a 7-0 run late in the half it seemed the Lady Dark Horses had seized the momentum and control of the game. The late half surge sent Clinton to the locker room with a 32-26 lead.
North Surry pulled to within four points of the Lady Horses early in the third period, but when Mikaela Johnson picked up her fourth foul on a charging call at the 5:06 mark of the third, the complexion of the game changed drastically for North Surry. With Johnson forced to the bench, the North Surry size advantage was greatly diminished and the Lady Greyhounds became more reliant on the jump shot, clearly a position they did not relish.
With Johnson on the bench, the Lady Horses took control of backboards to rebuild their lead. Clinton’s Williams snared her second offensive rebound off a late third quarter possession and found Canady in the corner for a 3-pointer, to match Clinton’s largest lead of the game, 38-30, with 2:57 left in the quarter.
North Surry’s Martha Holt did all she could to pull the Lady Greyhounds back into the game, hitting three third quarter jumpers, cutting the lead to six on two occasions, but the Lady Horses once again had the answer. Boykin hit a step back 3-pointer in the waning moments of the third quarter to send Clinton into the final quarter with a 45-36 lead that they had no plans of relinquishing.
The Lady Horses seemed content to burn some clock as the third quarter began, with Boykin doing the bulk of the ball handling, frustrating the Lady Greyhound defenders as she darted in and out of the lane, all the while milking the game clock. Holt scored her eighth second half point with 4:48 remaining in the game to cut the Clinton lead to 50-44 but North Surry could get no closer.
With Clinton in an all out four corners type spread time was quickly slipping away from North Surry. When Boykin crossed up North Surry’s Jessy Nichols, sending the Lady Greyhound to the floor with a series of fakes, the Clinton fans were at full throat, beginning to feel that the championship was indeed within their grasp.
If they were not already in full celebration mode, the Clinton faithful could not contain their excitement when their Lady Horses took a 10-point lead with less than a minute remaining and the North Surry coaches directed their players not to foul for the remainder of the game. The student section burst into a chant of “we believe that we will win” and the smiles on the faces of the Lady Dark Horses revealed that they too believed that they were about to realize their dream of capturing the state championship.
As the Reynolds Coliseum buzzer sounded, bringing the game to an end, the Lady Horses’ bench erupted across the floor to begin the celebration in earnest, head coach Chris Owens fell to his knees with one finger lifted skyward, as if to signal his team’s climb to the top, but also as a gesture to credit a higher power with the Lady Dark Horses’ success.
“This was a tough ball game. That is a great team we beat tonight,” Owens said after the game. “I am so proud of our team. We had told them all week that if we claim it, believe it and work for it we would receive it. They worked hard for it and they received it tonight.”
Owens continued his post game remarks by praising his leaders, adding “I am proud of all our girls, but these three girls I have with me (Mikayla Boykin, Alex Canady and Ashlyn Williams), they have really pushed their teammates and been leaders for the past nine games. And as you saw today they continued to lead and helped their team bring the trophy back to Clinton High School.”
The coach indicated that he and his assistants did not get overly concerned when the Lady Horses had some early foul trouble.
“We chose not to go deep into the bench early in the game because we felt that our first six or seven are very experienced and have played with fouls all year. We were confident that they could manage and they did a good job playing smart against some good bigs,” he said.
Owens stressed the importance of playing with the lead, saying, “we have only trailed at halftime a couple of times all season so going into halftime with the lead put us in our comfort zone. We have really preached to the girls all year that they need to own the first few minutes of the second half, and while we didn’t score a lot in the first few minutes of the third period, we played good defense and didn’t allow them to make up any ground on us.”
Boykin, who was honored after the game with the Kay Yow State Championship MVP award, credited team chemistry as a big factor in the Clinton win.
“I have been more focused during the playoffs in getting my teammates involved in the game,” she said. “Early in the season we didn’t have great chemistry, but that has improved through the season and I just have a lot of trust in my teammates’ ability to hit big shots when my shots are not falling. It is really just a matter of trusting each other and that has really grown over the season.”
Boykin also spoke of the support the team received from their hometown, adding, “the fans have been supporting us all year. They were really electric tonight. To be able to bring this championship back to the community is one of the greatest feelings ever for me.”
Boykin’s teammates, Canady and Williams, talked about their championship experience after the game. Canady, who got off to a slow start in the final game, explained what North Surry was doing to limit her shot attempts.
“They were not helping on defense when Mikayla went to the basket in the first half so that kept the defense really tight on me” Canady said. “In the second half they started helping when Mikayla would drive and Mikayla found me when they doubled her and I was able to hit some shots.”
Williams played a big role in the win, playing defense against a much taller opponent, and gathering eight rebounds in the win. Williams explained how she managed to handle the size disadvantage and snare some important rebounds.
“North Surry was tough inside. We had to know when the ball went up that we had to get a jump on their big girls and get to the spot first to get position for the rebounds,” said Williams. “I can tell you for sure that they were stronger inside than us, but I think we used our speed to get in position quicker and fight for the rebounds.”
Canady was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player and made several crucial hustle plays, diving for loose balls and getting big rebounds. Canady closed the post-game comments by saying, “my coaches have always told me the aggressor wins. We had to initiate contact when we were rebounding and I always try to really get after it, go on the floor after loose balls and tonight all that paid off — we got the win.”
Once again the Lady Dark Horses were led by Boykin. The sharp-shooting senior scored 31 points, breaking the state single-season scoring mark previously held by Fayetteville’s Shea Ralph. Boykin also grabbed nine rebounds, dished out five assists and had two steals to pace the Clinton attack. Canady added 13 points and four rebounds in 32 minutes of play and Williams scored eight and snared eight rebounds, playing much taller than her 5-foot, 8-inch frame to help neutralize the North Surry size advantage.
Tanaziah Chestnutt played another stellar defensive game, seeming to be all over the floor, making two steals, a block and scoring six points to wrap up her Lady Dark Horse career. Senior center Charica Joyner was a force inside, blocking four shots, hauling down four rebounds and scoring once against an imposing Lady Greyhound front line.
North Surry was paced by freshman Sutphin’s 12 points and 11 rebounds. The Greyhounds’ Johnson scored nine points but was limited to 20 minutes of playing time due to foul trouble. Holt pumped in eight second half points to keep the Lady Greyhounds close.
Clinton finished the season with a 30-2 record, bringing home the school’s third basketball state championship. The Lady Greyhounds close out the year 26-6.
Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at firstname.lastname@example.org.