By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
Seemingly in command, Fayetteville found itself fighting for its life.
In the Class A Region 3 Section 2 girls basketball championship at the Fayette County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building, Valley rallied with a late 10-0 run, cutting a 12-point deficit to two, and had a shot to go ahead. But, the Pirates retained enough composure and got two clinching free throws from senior Jessica Brown with 0:20 to go to escape with a 53-49 triumph to claim the section title.
Fayetteville was ahead 49-35 following an Avina Sedlock field goal with 4:26 left, and the Pirates still led 51-39 on a Sedlock drive down the middle with 3:01 to go. But, they couldn’t stand a little prosperity.
Valley senior Alexis Payne, who finished with a game-high 30 points, scored a three-point play off the offensive glass to ignite the Greyhounds’ late surge. Abby Buchan followed with a 3-point goal from the left wing after taking a feed from Payne on a fast break.
Valley kept up the pressure, and Buchan sank two free throws on successive trips to the charity stripe. Payne then ended the run with a foul line jumper after teammate Kelsey Bird blocked a Fayetteville shot on the other end, leaving Fayetteville clinging to a 51-49 margin with 0:50 left.
After the Greyhounds got possession following a tie-up and called a time-out with 0:35 left, Valley’s Kelsey Bird had an open look at a potential go-ahead 3-pointer, and the shot came tantalizingly close before falling out. The Pirates rebounded and Brown stepped to the foul line on the other end a few seconds later, sinking both attempts to give her team its final margin.
“Jessica stepped up at the right moment, at a crucial time when we had to have her,” said Fayetteville coach John Mark Kincaid. “She’s such a gamer. As a coach, I finally made one right call and got the ball to No. 5.”
“The way we play, it’s always like our hair’s on fire,” he added. “We’ve got to learn to let the game come to us.
“That was just a great game.”
“I just had to get arch on the ball (on the free throws), and they rolled around the rim (and fell in), the pressure came off,” said Brown, who overcame a slow start to collect 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots to pace the Pirate attack.
About Bird’s near-miss on the previous possession, she said, “I was, like, please roll out,” she said. “When it finally popped out, I thought ‘Thank goodness.’ ”
“We played in spurts,” said Valley coach Richie Cantrell, whose team had hoped to erase the memory of a 66-45 drubbing at the hands of Fayetteville on Jan. 28. “We missed multiple layups and free throws.
“It just wasn’t our night. The girls played hard and aggressive, and we went right down to the wire.
“We played a good team and you’ve got to give Fayetteville their due.”
The first half was a nip-and-tuck affair. Valley jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, but Fayetteville responded and led 12-9 after eight minutes.
A 14-2 run - capped by a pair of Sedlock freebies and two inside buckets by Erica Hogan - gave the Pirates a 24-11 spread at the 2:37 mark of the second, but Valley got a layup from Bird, a putback from Payne and a deuce from Buchan to trim the deficit to five, 24-19, at halftime.
Four times in the third period the Greyhounds cut the deficit to three points, but Fayetteville used a 6-0 run at the end to go ahead 38-29.
Buchan added 13 points for Valley (12-7) in support of Payne‘s 30-point outburst.
For Fayetteville (17-6), Sedlock finished with 16 points, Maddie Pritt had 12 points, four assists and three steals and Erica Hogan had eight points and 10 boards.
“It makes me proud of my team,” Brown said of the close win. “But we need to know what to do in these situations.
“We need to be ready.”
Kincaid felt his team was able to hurt Valley by utilizing more of its roster than the Greyhounds. “They looked a little more tired than us.”
Both teams will advance to Feb. 28 Region 3 co-final games, with Fayetteville playing the Section 1 loser and Valley facing the Section 1 winner.
“We’re still in it,” said Cantrell. “All is not lost.
“We’ve done a good job with the program. We’ve got one senior and the rest are underclassmen.”
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Alexis Payne 12 6-11 30, Abby Buchan 5 2-4 13, Kelsey Bird 1 0-0 2, Gracyn Grubb 0 0-0 0, Emily Smallman 1 0-0 2, Alaysha Taylor 1 0-0 2, Lauren Pleva 0 0-0 0, Chelsey Lively 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 8-15 49.
Jessica Brown 7 3-4 17, Avina Sedlock 6 4-4 16, Maddie Pritt 5 2-2 12, Erica Hogan 3 2-2 8, Kathryn Peelish 0 0-0 0, Alysia Sedlock 0 0-0 0, Alexa Roles 0 0-0 0, Kaylee Wood 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 11-12 53.
V 9 10 10 20 — 49
F 17 20 14 12 — 63
3-point goals — V: 1 (Buchan); F: None. Fouled out - None.