Mustang Girls Advance in Playoffs
The North Moore Mustang girls' improbable single-season turnaround continued with a 56-45 state sectional semifinal triumph over Allegheny Thursday night in Robbins.
North Moore improved to 18-10 on the season and advanced to the sectional finals against Bishop McGuinness (28-1) on Saturday.
"We're proud of them," North Moore coach Sammy McNeill said. "Cheryl Brewer, she used to be the AD here, told me it was back when Ginger Moore and Arlicia Maness played here the last time North Moore hosted a second-round game. And that's been about eight or nine years ago."
The Mustangs led by as many as 18 points on three different occasions in the second half. But a scrappy Allegheny squad refused to go quietly. A barrage of three-pointers and deadly free-throw shooting highlighted a 21-point fourth-quarter effort that saw Allegheny close to within 10 points late in the game.
"We took open shots, but they didn't start dropping for us until the end," Allegheny head coach Gil Maxwell said. "That was the difference. We caught fire too late. It was their night to win."
North Moore's game strategy had more than a little to do with Allegheny's early scoring drought.
"We had Jas (Jasmine Covington) and Logan (Monroe) and Miranda (Love) and Brandi (Chandler) on shutdown on No. 10 (Leah Bugielski) and No. 22 (Celeste Caudill) for them," McNeill said.
The quartet of Mustang defensive specialists held Allegheny's most potent offensive weapons to 15 points through the first three quarters. Even more important, the four girls accounted for 23 of North Moore's final total of 56 points.
"We weren't expecting much scoring from them," McNeill said. "Anything we got out of them was a bonus."
The 23 bonus points turned out to be a crucial part of well-balanced scoring that helped establish the big lead that made Allegheny's late rush too little too late. A perfect 10 in free throw shooting by McNeill, who finished with 11 points, and Allison Braswell in the final period sealed the victory. Braswell made all 10 of her free-throw attempts in the game, including eight in the final period, to tie Monroe for team honors with 12 points.
North Moore started off slowly. Allegheny's Amber Inman tallied the first bucket 52 seconds in. The Mustangs got on the board at the two-minute mark on a three-pointer by Monroe. North Moore was never headed the rest of the game although Allegheny did pull within one twice in the first quarter.
Field goals by Monroe and Covington stretched the early Mustang lead to five points before Allegheny rallied with a 6-2 run late in the period that made the score 9-8 with less than two minutes left.
Braswell made her presence felt in the early going with an assist on Covington's score, a pair of free throws and a block that kept Allegheny from retaking the lead. Ashley Powers scored down low to end the first quarter scoring. McNeill preserved the 11-8 advantage with a key shot block in the closing seconds.
North Moore poured it on early in the second quarter. Monroe nailed another trey, McNeill scored down low on a feed from Covington, Monroe added a free throw and Love hit a jumper to complete a 10-0 run that put the Mustangs up 19-8 with 2:44 left in the first half.
Allegheny cut the lead to seven before Brittany Harper scored in heavy traffic on a feed from Braswell. Allegheny answered with an Inman three-pointer that narrowed the margin to six points. Love got in the last word with a buzzer-beating trey that gave North Moore a 24-15 edge at the half. Monroe combined with Love for 14 of North Moore's 24 points at the break.
"Logan Monroe hit some big shots, especially in the first half," McNeil said.
Allegheny scored the first two points and the last two points of the third quarter. In between those scores North Moore staged a 16-5 run to take a commanding 40-24 lead into the final period.
Brittany Harper got things started in the quarter with a deuce down low off a pass from Covington. Harper followed with a putback and Covington chipped in with a field goal of her own. Love scored on another putback, McNeill hit a pair of buckets, and Monroe nailed her third trey of the game. Then McNeill closed out the Mustang run with a free throw.
Bugielski and Caudill finally got on track in the fourth quarter and combined for 15 points as Allegheny fought hard to get back into the game. But Braswell and McNeill combined for 14 points, and Powers added a follow shot to hold off the charge.
Allegheny nailed four treys in the last 2:26. But they couldn't keep the ball out of Braswell's hands. She made six of six at the charity stripe over the final two minutes to preserve the lead and the victory.
"It was in the books when they started putting Allison on the line," McNeill said. "She is money on that line."
Saturday's third-round game against big and talented Bishop McGuinnes, a Thursday night winner over Thomasville, presented North Moore with its biggest challenge of the season. North Moore's low post players, Harper and Powers, expressed the team's enthusiasm for yet another challenge.
Asked how it felt to be heading to the sectional finals after a 1-23 finish last year, Harper said, "It feels so good. We haven't won this many games since my freshman year and we didn't win that many then. It feels so great."
"I'm so excited," Powers said, echoing the enthusiasm of Harper and the rest of her teammates. "I can't believe we made it to the third round. I can't wait to go play."
McNeill simply stated, "It's been a great season. If we go down we want to go down against the best, the team that wins the state championship. We're up for the game."
Allegheny 8 7 9 21 -- 45
North Moore 11 13 16 16 -- 56
Allegheny -- Bugielski 3 3-4 10, Inman 5 0-0 12, A. Labus 0 0-0 0, Caudill 4 10-10 20, Marion 1 0-2 3, Brooks 0 0-0 0, Gentry 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, J. Labus 0 0-0 0, Wagoner 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 13 13-16 45.
North Moore -- McNeill 4 3-6 11, Monroe 4 1-2 12, Harper 3 0-0 6, Braswell 1 10-10 12, Covington 2 0-0 4, Love 3 0-0 7, Powers 2 0-2 4, Chandler 0 0-0 0, Walters 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 19 14-20 56.
Three-point goals: Allegheny 6 (Inman 2, Caudill 2, Bugielski 1, Marion 1); North Moore 4 (Monroe 3, Love 1).
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