LEDGER – The Mitchell High School varsity girls’ basketball team enters the 1A state playoffs with plenty of momentum.
The Mountaineers capped their season with an exclamation mark Friday, Feb. 21, by earning the Western Highlands Conference title after beating conference tournament host Mountain Heritage 60-57.
The win is Mitchell’s first over the Cougars this season – Heritage won both of the first two meetings between the two teams en route to a 10-0 mark in regular-season conference play.
The loss is Heritage’s first conference defeat since Jan. 13, 2017, when the team fell 55-52 at Madison.
Mitchell’s win sends the team into the playoffs as a No. 3 seed in the west region. The Class 1A No. 6-ranked Mountaineers (18-5) faced No. 30-seeded North Stokes (6-19) in the first round Tuesday, Feb. 25, but results were not available at press time.
Mountaineers head coach Zack McCartha said the win over Heritage made his team believe they can beat anyone.
“It was extremely exciting,” McCartha said. “They worked really hard, and they deserved to win that game. That’s kind of been their nemesis for some time. They wanted that game really badly.”
Mitchell clung to a 13-11 lead after one quarter against the Cougars, but the hosts rallied to take a 36-33 lead at halftime. Mitchell tied the game after three quarters and inched ahead by outscoring Heritage 11-8 in the fourth quarter to earn the win.
“They really stayed the course,” McCartha said. “They stayed focused for four quarters.”
After the Mountaineers gathered in a team celebration at center court, the team was presented with its trophy, and juniors Jill Pittman and Paige Johnson were named to the All-Tournament team while senior guard Hannah McMahan was tabbed as tournament most valuable player.
Pittman powered the Mountaineers with a team-high 21 points against the Cougars, and her defense helped slow the Heritage attack.
“Jill played outstanding, and she’s tough as nails,” McCartha said. “She’s the kind of kid that always wants to guard the other team’s best player.”
Johnson and McMahan combined for 17 points, and the two tied for the team rebounding lead with eight boards each. McMahan also dished out a team-high four assists.
“Hannah is just our steady leader,” McCartha said. “Last year, Hannah would have been rattled in this game. She doesn’t have to score 25 points to control the game, and she understands that now.”
The Mountaineers enter the state playoffs riding a five-game winning streak, including a win over their rival, but McCartha said the message for his team is simple – their work isn’t done.
“I’m hoping we aren’t satisfied,” McCartha said. “We have a long way to go. We can’t have a letdown. We have to use the momentum for the good and not the bad.”
The Lady Mountaineers led Class 1A for the second straight year in 3-pointers, making 164 so far this season, which is 40 more than second-place Neuse Charter.