Lady Vikings Return to CFVC Championship
The Union Pines Lady Viking basketball team takes the floor tonight at 6 p.m. against Western Harnett with the Cape Fear Valley Conference tournament title on the line.
The game marks the second straight season Union Pines has made it through to the championship game of the league tournament. Last season, the Vikes fell just short in the finals, falling 58-56 in overtime to the Westover Wolverines.
On that occasion, the Lady Vikings were the top seed, but this time they come in as the second seed. Western Harnett topped fourth seed Westover 57-48 in Wednesday’s semifinals, held at the Lady Eagles’ home court in Lillington.
At 19-5 on the season, Western claimed this season’s regular season CFVC championship with a league mark of 11-1.
The Vikings (23-3) went 10-2 in league play to finish second. The squads split their regular season series with each school winning at home. In the first meeting Union Pines cruised to a 47-31 victory in mid-December.
Then on the road at Western, the Vikes saw a nine-game win streak snapped with a 41-39 loss to the Eagles in a first place clash that came down to the final buzzer.
Since that loss, Union Pines has won five straight ballgames, including a 52-34 semifinal victory against Southern Lee Wednesday to advance to tonight’s CFVC tournament championship.
The Vikings controlled the game from start to finish, due in large part to their dominance of both the offensive and defensive boards. On the night Union Pines had 37 rebounds, while Southern Lee totaled 23. The Vikes took a 12-5 lead though one period, held a 22-11 edge at the break and were up by a score of 34-23 through three periods of play.
Union Pines head coach John Lewkowicz was pleased his team is back in the tournament title game for a second straight year, but he also gave credit to the Southern Lee Lady Cavaliers.
“Playing on neutral ground against a team for the third time this season, we knew this was going to be a challenge,” said Lewkowicz. “Luckily the girls were up to that challenge tonight.
“We came in expecting to be pushed. Southern Lee is a good team that is heading to the state playoffs too. They have a super coach in Donna Taylor and when you face the Cavaliers you know they are going to play hard.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Union Pines went up 36-23 on a put back by Tyler Ross. The Cavs responded with a five-point run to cut the lead to single digits at 36-28 and had a chance to trim that margin even more, but missed a pair of free throws at the 5:41 mark.
Union Pines then answered with a decisive seven point run, consisting of five made foul shots and another offensive put back by Ross to take a 42-28 lead with 3:48 left in the final frame.
“I thought we responded really well in that critical part of the fourth quarter,” Lewkowicz said, “and our guards did great job of closing the game down the stretch, which is the key for us.”
Crystal Hicks and sophomore Ross both had impressive double-double showings in the semifinal for the Vikings. Hicks, a junior captain, finished with 13 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Ross, a sophomore power forward, scored a game-high 15 points and grabbed 11 boards.
“Tyler (Ross) is just a moose down there and Crystal (Hicks) was outstanding at going to the ball to pick up defensive rebounds on the weak side,” Lewkowicz said. “Both girls also got some clutch offensive boards in the last quarter for us.”
Tyesha McLean, the Vikings’ senior captain and point guard, joined Ross and Hicks in double figures with 13 points in the contest. She also totaled five assists, four steals and three rebounds.
Senior guard Tashi Whitney left her stamp on the game finishing with seven points, three rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Southern Lee’s Briana Jenkins had a strong showing, finishing with a game-high 18 points. She also had five rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Contact F.W. Manning II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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