Murphy edges Mitchell in regional final

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Furious comeback in final minute falls short for Lady Mountaineers

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The No. 3 seed Mitchell High School Lady Mountaineers basketball team was presented the NCHSAA Class 1A state basketball playoffs West Region runner-up trophy Saturday, March 7, after a 63-62 loss to the undefeated No. 1 seed Murphy Bulldogs in the regional finals. (Brandon Roberts/MNJ)

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HICKORY – Another Mitchell High School team saw its season come to an end heartbreakingly.

The No. 3 seed Lady Mountaineers (22-6) battled No. 1 seed and undefeated Murphy Bulldogs (30-0) Saturday, March 7, in the NCHSAA Class 1A West Region finals at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory. It was Mitchell’s first appearance in the regional final since 2009 and Murphy’s third straight.

The Bulldogs clung to an eight-point lead with just 28 seconds remaining in the game when the Lady Mountaineers embarked on an improbable comeback that had senior Hannah McMahan shooting two free throws with .2 seconds remaining and Mitchell down 63-61. McMahan sank the first shot but missed the second, and time expired.

“Hannah is honestly the toughest kid I have ever been around,” said Zack McCartha, Lady Mountaineers head coach. “It was a whole game of events, not just those free throws. We wouldn’t have been where we were as a team, if not for Hannah. She’s a leader and has done everything imaginable for our program. I’d give her the chance to take those shots every time. I love her to death, and so does everyone else.”

It was a wild finish to a game in which Murphy never trailed, but after scoring 40 first-half points and leading 40-27 at halftime, McCartha’s adjustments worked, and Mitchell outscored Murphy 35-23 in the second half. 

The Bulldogs were leading Mitchell 52-41 going into the fourth quarter and were up by eight with 28 seconds remaining in the game. 

The Lady Mountaineers proceeded to force multiple turnovers and capitalized by hitting 3-pointers and free throws to cut into Murphy’s lead.

“Our effort was tremendous,” McCartha said. “We continued to fight, and that shows what type of players these girls are and how much work they have put in. They were never going to give up.”  

Junior Paige Johnson had a team-high 19 points and grabbed six rebounds for Mitchell in the loss. McMahan and junior Jill Pittman each scored 12 points and McMahan tallied seven assists. 

Junior Marley Cloer scored eight points and senior Shea Laws scored six for the Lady Mountaineers. 

“It took us some time to adjust to Murphy’s size, and that cost us early in the game,” McCartha said. “Once we settled in, we were fine. We knew if we kept it close, we’d have a chance. These are the toughest bunch of players, and I can’t put into words how proud I am of them.” 

The Lady Mountaineers advanced to the final four and set up the game against Murphy Wednesday, March 4, with a 63-44 win over the No. 2 seed Alleghany Trojans in Sparta.

Mitchell dominated the second half against the Trojans (27-4) to earn the 19-point win. Mitchell had a 15-11 lead after the first quarter but trailed the Trojans 21-20 at halftime. The Lady Mountaineers outscored the Lady Trojans 43-23 in the second half, including 25-13 in the fourth quarter, to claim the victory.

Mitchell was 26-for-42 from the free-throw line in the game, compared to Alleghany’s 3-for-11.

McMahan had a team-high 17 points for Mitchell, shooting 4-for-12 from the field and sinking nine of her 14 free-throw attempts. Johnson scored 12 points and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds and Jill Pittman scored 11. 

Cloer scored eight points, senior Peyton Pittman six, Laws five, and seniors April Huskins and Maddie Biddix scored two points each to round out the scoring for the Lady Mountaineers.