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Lady Spartans fall in championship round

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WILSON — At one point in the third quarter of Friday’s Farris & Farris Holiday Tournament girls championship game, Hunt High head coach Tiffany Parks could look on the floor and see a lineup not exactly noted for its capacity to score.

With foul trouble hampering the likes of juniors Bria Griffith and Imani Sutton and an ankle injury sidelining senior Tatiana Smith, Hunt’s top three scorers were off the floor against Smithfield-Selma. By the fourth quarter, senior Shaniah Spells had joined the four-foul brigade.

However, the Lady Warriors got help down the stretch from an unlikely source.

Junior power forward Dylia Lucas bucketed 13 of her 14 points in the second half on her way to a double-double, and Hunt held off Smithfield-Selma’s final rally in the fourth quarter to claim its fifth tournament title with a 70-48 victory.

Hunt of the 3-A Big East Conference improved to 9-2, while Smithfield-Selma, making its first girls championship appearance and the first for a out-of-county guest since Greene Central did it in 1997, dropped to 4-6.

“We were trying to shut down their best shooters,” Parks said. “And three (Zniah Thaggard) can shoot from half court. So it’s kind of hard to put somebody on her that’s tall enough and fast enough to keep up with her. And then, we needed someone who was strong with 12 (Khaliyah Peacock) that could handle her drives. So, we didn’t always necessarily have the right people in the right place where we would have liked it to be.”

Hunt appeared as if its resolve would be tested by the foul difficulty in the fourth quarter. Griffith, who was named the Eddie Summerlin Memorial Most Valuable Player, tried to use her length to face guard Thaggard at the outset of the third quarter. But Griffith was whistled for her fourth personal foul with 5:38 left in the third with Hunt holding a 37-24 lead.

Soon after, Smith went down with a horrendous-looking ankle injury that caused her to scream in agony and be carried off the floor. Sutton followed with her fourth personal, and the unlikely quintet for Spells, senior Tyra Rushing, Lucas, senior Shaniah Thorpe and junior Khala McNeil were left to carry the load.

“I was really proud of Tyra Rushing and Dylia Lucas,” Parks said. “I think they really stepped up in a big wayand got some really key points there at the end. They really pulled the lead for us, I think.”

Lucas had the last six points of the third quarter for Hunt, using a pair of putbacks and a layup at the horn to give Hunt a 47-31 cushion entering the fourth.

Rushing’s three-point play made it 50-31 Lady Warriors early in the fourth.

But behind Thaggard and Peacock, the Spartans didn’t fold. Thaggard, who knocked down six 3-pointers on her way to a team-high 20 points, got going along with Peacock and Jahni Santos to spark a 13-2 run, trimming Hunt’s lead to eight.

Smithfield-Selma led twice, at 3-0 and 6-2 on a pair of 3-pointers from Thaggard, who joined Peacock and Santos on the all-tournament team. Griffith, Smith, Lucas and Spells were the representatives from Hunt. The 22-point margin of victory was the largest lead for the Lady Warriors.

“We came out in the first half and played about two minutes of basketball in the first quarter,” Smithfield-Selma head coach Billy Lassiter said. “And they came in, made a big run, and our girls kind of dropped their heads. Then in the second quarter, it went back and fourth. We closed the gap to 14 at halftime, and I told the young ladies, ‘The halftime is going to tell if you’ve got a lot of heart or you’re just going to drop your head and let it go.’

“And they fought back. I’m really proud of them.”

The Spartans knocked down nine 3-point shots. Aside from Thaggard’s six treys, Santos had two on her way to 13 points. Peacock had nine for SSS.

However, Griffith, who led all scorers with 23 points, returned to the floor and staked Hunt to the finish line alongside Lucas, who pulled down 11 of Hunt’s 31 rebounds. Griffith finished 9 for 11 from the field as the Lady Warriors shot 27 of 64 from the field for 42.2-percent accuracy.

Griffith said keeping composure was key as Smithfield-Selma made its last surge.

“Just trying to keep them level headed,” she said. “Knowing that we can’t control the refs. The only thing we can control is how we play and how we react to the calls. The main goal is to win the game, and not to focus on one thing or the other.”