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By CRAIG WORRELL
In its bid to become the first Mountain Empire District team to hand Fort Chiswell a loss this year, Galax held the season champion Pioneers to just four second-half field goals on 22 attempts.
Unfortunately for the Maroon Tide, nobody has ever devised a solid plan for defending the free throw.
Fort Chiswell scored 15 of its 21 second-half points at the foul line, including 10-of-12 in crunch time, as the Pioneers held off a challenge from Galax to take a 58-54 win in the MED girls’ tournament championship game Friday.
“They outscored us 24-8 from the free throw line, and that was the difference,” Galax coach Yerrick Stoneman said. “It wasn’t the officials or anything like that, we were just being more aggressive on the defensive end.”
The second-seeded Maroon Tide (12-12) trailed by as many as a dozen points in the second half but had two possession in the fourth quarter with which it could have tied the game or taken the lead. Galax missed from the floor on both of those possessions and the Pioneers (17-5) hit foul shots on the other end to gain a little breathing room.
A Bailey Shumate 3-pointer and Burgandy Bobbitt’s transition basket had Galax down by a single point, 52-51, with 1:45 to go, and the Pioneers went into a spread to kill some time, but Channing Russell came up with a steal for the Maroon Tide with a minute to play.
Galax was unable to capitalize offensively and Carlytta Hamm grabbed one of her 11 rebounds for Fort Chiswell, and Nancy Thacker hit two free throws to widen the lead to 54-51.
Two more Thacker foul shots made it a five-point game when Russell swished a 3-pointer for Galax with 15 seconds left, but Thacker again knocked down two free throws to seal the win.
The Western Carolina-bound Thacker, announced as the district player of the year following the game, was perfect on 11 free throw attempts on the night and would finish with 20 points for the Pioneers.
“We kept her somewhat in check until late,” Stoneman said. “She had the ball in her hands a lot and got on the free throw line a lot.”
Solid efforts on defense and under the boards by Allison White and Taylor Bryant helped Galax play to an 18-18 tie after the first quarter, but Fort surged ahead in the second period as the Tide shooting touch faded. A Shumate trey had Galax down 24-23 when the Pioneers scored nine unanswered points for a 31-23 lead. A foul on an off-balance 3-point attempt just before the half gave Thacker three foul shots – which she hit – for a 37-28 halftime lead.
The Pioneers went up 40-28 early in the third quarter before Galax stormed back. Holding Fort scoreless for nearly four minutes, the Tide rattled off 10 unanswered points, including 3-pointers by Bryant and Shumate, to cut the deficit to 40-38.
The teams traded four-point runs before Shumate’s drive cut the lead to 46-44 early in the fourth.
“The best thing about my team is they don’t quit,” Stoneman said. “We were down a lot at one point but our girls kept fighting and pushing back and we had our chances there at the end. Hopefully Tuesday [in the Region C quarterfinals] we can make those shots.”
Shumate hit five 3-pointers and would lead all scorers with 21 points for the Maroon Tide and Bryant added 10 points and 12 rebounds. White provided six points, 11 boards and five blocks.
Both teams awaited Sunday’s selection meetings to learn their Region C tournament pairings, Galax in Division 1 and the Pioneers in Division 2.
Sarah Whisman scored 12 and Hamm added 10 for Fort.
Galax....................18 10 14 12––54
Fort Chiswell.........18 19 9 12––58
Shumate 8 0-0 21, Russell 2 3-6 8, White 1 4-6 6, Bryant 4 1-2 10, Cassel 3 0-0 7, Bobbitt 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 8-14 54.
Fort Chiswell (17-5)
Chrisley 0 2-2 2, Coffey 0 2-2 2, Steed 0 2-2 2, Dunn 0 1-2 1, Thacker 4 11-11 20, Whisman 4 4-10 12, Lawson 4 0-2 8, Hamm 4 2-5 10. Totals 16 24-35 58.
Three-point field goals – Galax 8-22 (Shumate 5, Russell, Bryant, Cassell), Fort Chiswell 2-3 (Thacker 2). Rebounds – Galax 36 (Bryant 12), Fort Chiswell 45 (Hamm 11). Turnovers – Galax 12, Fort Chiswell 13. Team fouls – Galax 21, Fort Chiswell 13. Fouled out – Shumate, White. Technical fouls – none.