Tempers flared and aggression boiled over in a physical rubber match between Newton-Conover and Hickory for the Catawba Valley Classic girls title on Thursday.
When the dust settled, the Red Tornadoes hoisted their record 16th Classic banner, ending the Red Devils’ chance at a repeat.
The game’s final score mirrored that of a contest between the two school’s football programs.
Newton-Conover and Hickory combined to make 17-of-74 field goal attempts — a staggering 22 percent for the game.
“A win is a win the way I look at it,” said Hickory coach Barbara Helms. “It didn’t bother me a bit because we did what we were supposed to do.”
Newton-Conover, who made 10-of-36 shots from the field, committed 32 turnovers in the game, including 17 in the first half and 15 in the second half.
“Turnovers have been our achilles heel all year,” said Newton-Conover coach Ike Williams. “The last two turnovers hurt. We were in a position to either tie or take the lead and control the game from there. For whatever reason, we just didn’t settle down and tried to force passes.”
Newton-Conover scored three points in the first quarter — the team’s lowest output in the first quarter since last year’s Western Regionals against Salisbury.
“We really struggled, especially in the first half,” Williams said. “Hickory packed it in more. The first two games we played them, they were spread out more. We weren’t hitting any outside shots either. We didn’t give them any reason to expand their zone. We didn’t execute well, either. You can give them the credit.”
Aja Hoyle, who led the Lady Red Tornadoes in scoring the first two games of the Classic, paced Hickory with nine first half points, guiding Hickory to a 21-10 lead at the break.
Despite the first half turnovers, Newton-Conover continued to dig into their deficit in the second half.
Hickory helped the cause by netting two points total in the third quarter — a free throw each by Hoyle and Farrah Young.
Newton-Conover scored seven points, including four from Gibbs, pulling within six points entering the fourth quarter.
Trying to maintain their distance, Hickory went into defensive mode to protect their slim margin.
It didn’t help N-C that Gibbs had accrued four fouls, while teammates Dasia Tipps and Shynese Whitener had three each.
“We traditionally score a lot more points, but we felt like we needed to protect our lead,” Helms said. “We wanted to pull them out a little bit and make them have to play some chase because they had some girls in foul trouble.”
Through the first 12 minutes of the second half though, Hickory was held to no field goals and six free throws made.
A basket and foul by Abbie Vanhorn followed by another and-one chance created by Gibbs cut N-C’s deficit to three points, 27-24, halfway through the fourth.
That was as close as the Lady Red Devils would get, though, as the Lady Red Tornadoes won the game and the Classic crown.
Hoyle led Hickory with 14 points and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Boys championship: No. 1 Hickory 67, No. 3 Alexander Central 64
Hickory's Raheim Connelly hit a three-pointer with 3 seconds remaining to lift the Red Tornadoes to their fifth consecutive Catawba Valley Classic championship.
Connelly made 10 three-pointers in the game, while the Cougars made 10 treys of their own as a team. He finished with a game-high 30 points.
Jalen Byrd added 27 points, as the duo combined for 57 of Hickory's 67 points in the game.
Alek Ayer scored a team-high 17 points for Alexander Central, while teammate Jonas Watts added 15 points.
Byrd was tabbed the Classic's Most Valuable Player.