Lisa Rodriguez dove across the floor, snagged a rebound and rolled around for a few seconds before finally getting control.
That’s the type of energy that helped the Union High School girls basketball team build a comfortable lead during the first half of the Randolph County Tournament championship Monday at Winchester Fieldhouse.
And that was just enough to win the title.
Just barely enough.
For the third straight game, the Rockets build a big early lead.
For the third straight game, their opponent battled back to make things interesting.
But for the third straight time, Union managed to overcome the late rally and held on to defeat Randolph Southern 55-51 and earn its first Randolph County title since the 1997-98 season, according to Union athletic director Jeff Holloway.
It was also the first time in the last 16 meetings that Union was able to defeat Randolph Southern.
“This group of seniors had never even won a county tourney game, so for them to come through and get a county tourney championship, I know, is very special for them,” Union coach Tom Zell said of his seniors Rodriguez, Courtney Kinnaman, Candise Deck, Jordan Maynard and Michelle Norman.
The Rockets (12-2) wasted little time. Sophomore DeAnn Kauffman took the tip-off all the way to the basket and just 4 seconds had passed before she put the Rockets on the board with a layup.
The stingy Union defense forced the Rebels (8-5) to six turnovers in the opening frame and held them to a 1-for-11 performance from the field, unofficially.
Union scored the first eight points of the quarter, before Shelbie Hathaway drilled a 3-pointer with 5:23 left in the period to get Southern within 8-3.
However, the Rockets broke loose at that time with Rylee Davis hitting a deep jumper, Kauffman adding a 3 and Davis following with a pair of her own.
Davis finished the game with 28 points — 10 in the opening frame, 11 in the fourth and 12 on 3-pointers.
The Rockets led 19-4 after the opening frame and 21-4 early in the second.
The Rebels used a 10-0 run to get within 23-16 and a 3-pointer by Kara Snyder got them within 25-19, but Union surged ahead to a 29-19 halftime lead.
“We just knew that if we kept cool and played hard with all our energy, we would win,” Davis said.
The energy soon swayed Southern’s way, however.
Union led 41-31 after 3 quarters, but the Rebels scored the first 10 of the final frame with Snyder tying the game at 41 with her fourth 3-pointer.
Her fifth soon gave the Rebels their first lead, 44-43, with about 4 minutes to play.
Another 3 by Davis made it 48-44 and the Rockets hit just enough free throws to seal the win.
“It really helped us because in the beginning of the tournament we were down to Monroe (Central) and that made us better that we were able to keep our composure, because we’ve already been through this situation, and it helped us grow through the tournament,” Rodriguez said.
Kauffman finished with 13 points for the Rockets, while Kinnaman and Faithlan Ellis each had seven rebounds. Kinnaman had three blocks, while she, Kauffman, Rodriguez and Davis each had three steals.
Morgan Acton finished with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead Southern, while Snyder also had 17 points and Shelbie Hathaway finished with nine, plus six rebounds.
The two teams meet again Thursday at Union in a key Mid-Eastern Conference showdown. Union is 4-0. Southern is 3-0.
“You’ve got to give praise to the girls for coming back,” Southern coach Jerimy Stephan said. “The negative thing is getting down 17 points. We just can’t spot a team like Union 17 points, you just can’t do it, and we fought back, we never quit and I have to give our girls a bunch of praise for that. At the same time, I’ve got to give the Union team a bunch of praise, too, because they came out ready to play and shot the ball really well.”