With her team down by one point, Hickory senior Hillary Sigmon stepped to the free throw line with 16 seconds and a two shots to tie the game or take the lead.
"She is a seasoned player. She knows at that point it is time to put it on,” said Hickory coach Barbara Helms. “Both she and Jada Hillary showed they are seniors. They hit free throws at the end and made sure the ball was in their hands at the end.”
Sigmon hit both free throws to give Hickory a 55-54 lead. Seconds later, Hillary hit two more free throws to help seal a 59-54 revenge victory over Newton-Conover.
On Nov. 30, the Lady Red Devils snapped Hickory’s 65-game regular season win streak with a 59-49 win. With Friday’s victory, round two goes to Hickory, but it wasn’t easy.
The contest was a back-and-forth battle that saw Hickory build a lead as large as 10 points with 6:39 remaining in the game. Newton-Conover scrapped back.
“Our girls fought hard and fought back,” said Newton-Conover coach Jonathan Tharpe. “They were down and could’ve gone out, but they dug deep inside and fought hard to get back in the game.”
The fourth quarter rally was led by Samiya Pitts who tied up a loose ball and collected a couple of steals, while Breanna Alston hit a three-pointer and Tiana Littlejohn added a basket. With 2 minutes remaining, Quazzy Tipps snagged a steal and converted it into a lay-up to bring Newton-Conover within one point. With 50 seconds, remaining Tipps hit a three-point shot to give Newton-Conover a 54-52 lead.
It wasn’t enough. Hickory forced a key Newton-Conover turnover along the baseline in the Red Devils’ front court. Newton-Conover wouldn’t produce another comeback.
“Wow. That was a heck of a game to watch,” Helms said. “There was a lot of intensity on both ends. There were some ups and downs where both teams kind of made some runs at each other.
“I am glad we responded when we had to and converted on the free throws and kept our head up as the change of pace was taking place,” she continued.
For Tharpe and the Lady Red Devils, Friday’s contest was more than a chance to beat a long-time rival.
“Hickory makes us better,” he said. “Playing teams that are aggressive and get after it, I like to think that makes us better. That’s why we play them.”
And if the cards play out right, Newton-Conover and Hickory may face each other again in the Catawba County Christmas Classic.
Gibbs led Newton-Conover scorers with 13 points. Tipps added 12 and Littlejohn scored 11.