By CHRIS HOBBS
GAME VIDEO by Myra Hobbs, HobbsDailyReport.com: ELatMaidengirls
MAIDEN – Instinctively knowing how to win helped Maiden High’s girls grab a key home victory on Friday night and open a two-game lead over four teams tied for second place in South Fork 2A basketball.
With both their thinking caps and working boots on, the Blue Devils outscored visiting East Lincoln by 13 points over the final 3 ½ minutes, winning 70-58 after a 15-2 closing run.
Led by Cree Bass’ 29 points, Maiden (12-1, 5-0) moved further ahead of East Lincoln, Lake Norman Charter, Newton-Conover and Lincolnton – they all share second at 3-2 in the league – just five games into a 14-game conference schedule.
“We’re learning,” Maiden head coach David Williams said of his team’s calm and cool approach when the game got tight late. “We’ve got some good pieces …
“Our girls have worked hard for a long time, and that’s paying off them. They earn every single point and every defensive stop we get.”
The Mustangs gave the Blue Devils a battle, hanging close even when star player Destiny Johnson sat out for an extended period of time with four fouls.
Johnson — who finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and two steals — exited in the third quarter and re-entered with six minutes to play with Maiden up 57-48.
Johnson then scored before Amara Giles-Robinette hit a 12-foot jumper. Sara Rhoney then converted two free throws, and after Robinette scored on a pass from Johnson, the Blue Devils’ lead was down to 57-56.
Maiden immediately answered with an 8-0 run, started by a 3-pointer from the left wing by Laney Beard (10 points).
Grace Herman got wide open on the right block next, taking a pass and scoring. Then, after a 3-second violation by the Mustangs, came a free throw by Gracie Arrowood. The next time down, Arrowood was isolated with one defender and drove for a layup and a 65-56 lead with one minute, 21 seconds to play.
With a minute to go, Caria McClain scored for the Mustangs before Maiden scored the game’s final seven points – Zoe Huffman (13 points) breaking away for a long pass and bucket, and Bass making five of six free throws.
The Blue Devils outscored the Mustangs (8-6 overall) by 15-10 after Johnson returned to the floor.
Brinna Tadlock was the game’s only other double-figure scorer with 18 for East Lincoln, which last season fell at Maiden by 10 points, won by four points over the Blue Devils at home and lost 71-65 in overtime in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A tournament title game at Catawba Valley Community College.
Williams said his team weathered a storm this time when the Mustangs stayed close with Johnson in foul trouble before creating a direct path to winning.
“They had weathered a major storm,” he said. “We did feel like we didn’t take advantage of that opportunity (Johnson not in the lineup).
“We knew we had to get back to being us. When we got back to what we do, that’s when we made those last couple of (plays).”
Maiden — vying to win its first conference girls’ basketball title since Frank Snider coached them to a Southern Foothills 1A crown in 2003-04 – has two conference games next week.
On Tuesday night, the Blue Devils are at home against Newton-Conover. They beat the Red Devils by four in a semifinal of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Classic on Dec. 28.
On Friday night, the Blue Devils are at Lincolnton. The Blue Devils and Wolves met three times last season, when Maiden went 21-8, with Lincolnton winning 57-55 at home and Maiden winning 55-28 and then 64-54 in a second-round state 2A playoff game. The latter two games were played at Maiden.
East Lincoln is at home Tuesday against West Lincoln and plays a non-league game Thursday at North Gaston and goes to Newton-Conover on Friday night.