SURVIVE AND ADVANCE: Lady Bears basketball secures 58-50 victory over North Davidson in opening round of NCHSAA 2A West state playoffs

Lady Bears senior point guard Addie Wray (30) turned on the microwave in the second half of Tuesday's playoff win over the Lady Black Knights. Wray scored 16 of her 18 total points in the half. (O-N-E photo by Michelle Thompson)Lady Bears junior guard Olivia Ellis (23) sparked her team with 7 of her 14 total points in the second quarter in the first round of the NCHSAA 2A West playoffs. (O-N-E photo by Michelle Thompson)Lady Bears junior forward Faith Isenhour (14) going for a putback layup in Tuesday's home playoff win over North Davidson. (O-N-E photo by Michelle Thompson)Lady Bears freshman center Damireona Burch (41) celebrating with teammates Camryn Bryant (21), Faith Isenhour (14) and Olivia Ellis (23) during the first-round state playoff contest against North Davidson on Tuesday night. (O-N-E photo by Michelle Thompson)
Marcus Smith
Sports Editor

'Survive and advance' is the name of the game come playoff time.

For the Bunker Hill Lady Bears' varsity girls basketball team, it did just that in first-round action of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2A West state playoffs.

Entering as the 2020-21 Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference champions outright – the program's first conference title since 2009 – the No. 5-seed Lady Bears did battle with the visiting No. 12-seed North Davidson Lady Black Knights on Tuesday night.

Although it was in for a fight throughout, Bunker Hill (11-0, 10-0 Northwestern Foothills 2A) was victorious over the Lady Black Knights (11-3, 8-1 Central Carolina 2A) by a narrow margin, 58-50.

“We're going to do our job,” said Bunker hill head coach Lee Swanson. “That's one of the things we talked about. Everybody's role's different.

“Like I told DaLesha [Linebarger], 'you scored no points, but you impacted the game. Addie [Wray], you didn't shoot it well (in the first half), but I knew you would shoot it well in the second half...Olivia [Ellis], I knew if we got you open looks (you'd score), and Faith [Isenhour], you're rebounding and you attack.' We know we've got people who can do those things, so we don't ask you to do something different. Just do what you can do.”

In the opening quarter, things did not go as planned from the outset for the Lady Bears as North Davidson scored the first basket in the first 20 seconds of play on a triple by the sophomore sharpshooting guard Lettie Michael (who finished with a game-high 19 points).

Michael's play would be the story of the first quarter as she connected on a barrage of threes including one that extend her team's lead, 16-8, with 2:34 remaining in the frame. She scored this triple on an open swing pass which is also how senior forward Cassidy Brinkley got into the mix with a triple of her own in the quarter.

In addition to the Lady Bears' early failures to defend the 3-ball, it also lacked the ability to corral the boards as the Lady Black Knights outmuscled Bunker Hill on the glass, 10-6 (four of which came from starting senior center Courtney McMillan).

Fortunately, the Lady Bears had help in the quarter from junior forward Faith Isenhour and junior guard Olivia Ellis.

Isenhour muscled her way to the foul line twice in the opening period– connecting on 2-for-4 – along with pulling down four of her team's six first quarter rebounds. She finished the frame with six points, four boards and an assist.

Furthermore, Ellis gave her Lady Bears some life to close out the frame. Trailing 18-10 with under 20 seconds to play, she nailed a dagger of a 3-pointer on the left side on an assist by senior point guard Addie Wray to pull her team close, 18-13, entering the second quarter.

As far as the second quarter is concerned, the momentum began to shift in the Lady Bears' favor as it tightened up on defense – only allowing one field goal in the frame on a triple by junior guard Emily Hege (who finished with 18 points, including a pair of triples). The Lady Bears locked down on the hot hand Michael as she scored only two points in the frame via the foul line.

“We watched them on film. They shoot it really well,” said coach Swanson. “So, we really wanted to make them be drivers, and we just didn't do a good job of locating the shooters (in the first quarter)...We did a much, much better job after that. Getting out to shooters. Switching those screens, and not going under them.”

Offensively, momentum began to shift, as well, as freshman center Damireona Burch pumped up the fans in attendance with an And-1 finish on an assist by Isenhour. Burch converted at the charity stripe and brought her team to just a one-possession deficit, 23-21, with 4:52 left in the first half.

Ellis then continued her work from the opening frame as she nailed a triple from the left corner on an assist by Isenhour to give her squad a 24-23 lead with 3:32 left in the half. It was the Lady Bears' first lead since its 6-5 lead in the first quarter.

Burch then came back with another And-1 finish, this time on an assist by Wray, but she missed the free-throw. The Lady Bears were still ahead, 26-23, with 2:09 left in the second quarter. Burch finished the contest with six points and four rebounds.

Not usually a glamour stat, but quite effective, Lady Bears senior guard/forward DaLesha Linebarger drew a timely charge with about 1:49 left in the half. Linebarger earned six rebounds and five assists, along with two drawn charges in the win.

Following the North Davidson offensive foul, Isenhour collected the putback lay-in with 1:28 left in the quarter, extending the Lady Bears' lead to 28-23. With about 30 seconds left to play in the half, Ellis connected on another dagger from beyond the arc to give her team a 31-23 advantage.

Hege then closed out the half with a free-throw to bring her team within striking distance, 31-24, entering the break.

In the third quarter, Wray began to get a full head of steam offensively after mustering two points in the first half. She put the Lady Bears ahead, 36-26, on a pull-up triple from the left wing with 5:50 remaining in the frame.

Michael responded with a triple of her own – her only made field goal in the quarter – to bring her team within striking distance once more, 36-29, with 5:32 left in the third.

However, Wray countered moments later with another deep ball connection from the left corner on assist by Linebarger, extending her team's lead to double-digits again, 39-29, with 5:10 left in the frame.

On an assist by Wray, senior guard Camryn Bryant earned the easy two with the Lady Bears leading, 41-29. Bryant finished with seven points, a rebound, an assist and a steal.

Furthermore, junior forward Maddy Altiers earned a point from the charity stripe followed by two more points from the foul line by McMillan, trailing 41-32 with 3:17 left in the third quarter.

Wray then earned her way to the free-throw line for the first time and put up two more points for her squad, 43-32 (its second-largest lead of the night), with about two minutes left in the third. Hege countered with a layup and then Isenhour responded with a two-point basket of her own.

To close out the quarter, Brinkley maneuvered her way to the foul line and converted 1-for-2 with the Lady Black Knights trailing, 45-35, going into the final quarter.

It was tricky once again for the Lady Bears early in the final period. Much like the opening quarter, North Davidson scored two quick baskets on a putback layup by Hege and a layup on the inbound by McMillan to cut the lead to six, 45-39, with 7:19 left to play.

This forced an early timeout by Bunker Hill, but the Lady Black Knights were still on a roll as Michael connected on a dribble pull-up 3-pointer (her fifth of the game) to cut the Lady Bears' lead to just three, 45-42, with 6:35 remaining in play.

Although it got really close, the Lady Black Knights never regained its lead and Bunker Hill secured the home playoff victory.

This was thanks in large part to a strong free-throw effort by the Lady Bears down the stretch, who went 9-for-15 in the quarter.

Wray would be the hero at the foul line in the final two minutes of action as she went 6-for-6 (8-for-8 on the night). She converted 4-of-4 in the final minute to give her team a 58-49 advantage before Hege hit her team's final point at the line.

Wray finished with a team-high 18 points (16 points in the second half alone), along with seven rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals. Ellis followed with 14 points (including a trio of threes) while Isenhour garnered 13 points, nine rebounds, three assists and a block in the playoff win.

“We got put in a few positions late that we hadn't been in that now we can learn from because we didn't execute them perfectly,” said Swanson. “Now, we can teach them that, and that's how you get better...I'm just proud of our kids. I got a really good group of kids. More than anything, we want to go as far as we can, but we just want to pursue moments, and this is a good one.”

The Lady Bears will have a chance to pursue another 'moment' in second-round action against No. 13-seed R-S Central (11-3) – who knocked off No. 4-seed Forest Hills (10-2) on Tuesday – on Thursday once again on its home court set for a 7 p.m. start.