• 61°

Knights conquer Cavaliers for YVC tournament crown

With 1:40 to go before halftime and the score deadlocked at 19 in Saturday’s Yadkin Valley Tournament championship game, Gray Stone’s Margaret Huckabee toed the free throw line in preparation to shoot the front end of a one-and-one.

To this point, the game had been a nip-and-tuck affair with neither North Rowan nor top-seeded Gray Stone able to gain any significant momentum.

Huckabee’s shot drew iron, but bounced to the left side of the key where North Rowan’s Hannah Freeman occupied the low block. Before Freeman could secure the rebound, Huckabee blew past her, grabbed the loose ball and laid it in to send her team two aheaad.

The hustle play ignited the Gray Stone defense, which forced two more Cavalier miscues in the final minute and converted each to points, taking a 25-19 lead at intermission.

How big was the flurry to finish the second quarter?

“Taking the momentum like that going into halftime was big,” said Knights coach Robert Stack. “It gave us a lift when we needed it.”

Considering that North Rowan freshman guard Kamora Cannie had already swished three 3-pointers by halftime, her outside threat, along with Freeman’s strong play in the paint, would present a stiff challenge for Gray Stone in the second half.

And while the entire Knights squad rose to the occasion over the final 16 minutes, Huckabee’s efforts stood out in particular. The sophomore guard was a whirling dervish on defense, constantly harassing Cavalier ball handlers, forcing a number of turnovers and managing to score five points of her own.

In the process, Gray Stone not only maintained the slim halftime lead, but was able to build the lead to as much as 14 points at the 3:54 mark of the final period. Forced to foul, North Rowan was able to cut the margin to 52-47 with 1:23 left, but never drew closer.

Gray Stone’s bench depth was also a key factor, especially late in the second half. Ten members of the Knights’ 12-player roster participated, as opposed to North Rowan, which dressed only nine players, with eight seeing court time.

“We have had some players under the weather at times this season, but these ladies practice hard every day and push each other hard, so we have seen several reserves step it up when they have been called upon,” said Stack.

Huckabee, who saw more playing time than usual, said her passion for the game and for playing strong defense comes primarily from her parents and from her travel team coach, Mike Russell.

“They always stress effort and hustle,” she said.

But Huckabee was quick to credit her teammates as well.

“The whole team was excited to be playing for the conference championship,” she said, “and that excitement is contagious…it motivated us all to give our best.”

Gray Stone was led by Seccora Medley’s 14 points, with Danika Ray (11) and Danielle Werts (10) also in double figures. Cannie scored 18 to pace North Rowan, while Freeman added 14.

Both teams will qualify for the NCHSAA playoffs, which begin Tuesday.