The fans would have had it no other way. The two traditionally strongest Randolph County teams were in similar situations heading into Wednesday, and nothing less than a dogfight was expected.
Both started 9-0 — Randolph Southern 10-0 — and both were 10-2 heading into the annual Randolph County girls basketball tournament opener.
The teams did not disappoint.
With 5.3 seconds left, Randolph Southern had the ball down by two, but Winchester’s Hayley Myers came through, as she forced a turnover just before the buzzer and ended up on her back, with the ball in her hands, along with a 51-49 Winchester victory.
The road doesn’t get much easier for the Falcons, who face the undefeated host, Union (11-0), at 6 tonight.
Monroe Central sees Union City at 7:30, following the first semifinal. The championship is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday.
Monroe Central defeated Union City 61-44 in the boys opener and plays defending champion Winchester at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by Randolph Southern opposite Union at 7:30.
The boys championship follows the girls game Saturday at 8.
Tre Burton led Union City with 15 points in the boys game.
Winchester’s thrilling girls victory started as a first-quarter shootout, ended with a scoreless final 3:25 minutes, and featured domination on the boards from the Falcons, as the defending champions finished with 41 team rebounds.
Bailey Gates already had a double-double at 10 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, and finished the night with 20 points and 17 rebounds, while Delaney Miller had eight and 13, respectively.
“It was pretty awesome, because I don’t think I’ve rebounded that high before in any of my other seasons, and so that was really good,” Gates said. “I’m happy I was able to do that. I just tried my best to get my team another win.”
So did Jill Morrison, it seemed like, as she finished with a team-high 23 points.
She had the first bucket of the game and had 13 in the first quarter.
Winchester never trailed, leading 17-13, 27-20 and 39-36 after the first three quarters respectively — but the Rebels did make it interesting.
They trailed by as many as nine points in the second quarter, but tied the game with just under two minutes left in the third quarter at 35-all.
“It’s a great victory for these young ladies, because we were struggling the last few games,” Winchester coach Ed Geesaman said. “We made a couple changes and we brought the girls in and showed them on the tape what we were doing wrong, what I was doing wrong as a coach when we were talking about getting rebounds. … We put together a game plan that we thought would help these girls so that we would do better on the boards, and it worked.”
Hannah Franklin scored the final two points of the game with 3:25 to play, as both teams stepped up their defense, but neither was able to get the ball in the net.
Both teams missed free throws and field goals in the final few seconds, as Randolph Southern ended up with the ball with 5.3 seconds left, but turned the ball over.
Morgan Acton led the Rebels with 20 points and six rebounds, while Franklin added 15 points and Shelbie Hathaway contributed 11, including three 3s.
“I felt like, for the last two minutes, momentum was in out favor. I felt like we never could get that shot to fall, we never could get that bucket that you need,” Rebels coach Jerimy Stephan said. ” … The bad thing is somebody’s got to win and somebody’s got to lose. I hate losing, but we’ve learned a lot these past three games. We’ve lost by one and one, and by two. It’s only going to help us for the future. Hopefully when we get to sectional play, we can capitalize on what we need to capitalize on.”