South Pointe's No. 3 ranking in Class AAAA was put to the test Tuesday.
But in the end, the Lady Stallions lived up to their newfound lofty status and pulled away for a 41-38 win over much-improved Northwestern. South Pointe moved to 20-1, 10-0 in Region 3-AAAA.
Northwestern began the season ranked No. 8 in Class AAAA, but has fought through hard times. Tuesday's loss dropped the Lady Trojans to 6-10, 5-3.
The way they've played doesn't reflect their record.
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Northwestern pushed South Pointe hard, pulling into a 21-21 tie at the half, but would have led had the Lady Stallions' Talisha Crockett not scored before the buzzer.
Northwestern led 30-27 late in the third quarter, but South Pointe's DeBrea Barber nailed a 3-pointer and tied the game. Barber followed up with a steal and a layup just before the quarter ended, giving the Lady Stallions a 32-30 lead.
"We didn't play our game, but Northwestern had a lot to do with that,'' South Pointe coach Brett Childers said. "Northwestern has a good team and has played well the last two weeks. We hung in and were able to get it going late in the game.''
Give that credit to center Tiana Hemphill, who scored four points but was a force on the boards. She put South Pointe up 40-36 with a layup, but Northwestern came back with free throws from Amber Stewart and Gabrielle Bennett that trimmed the score to 40-38.
Bennett kept the Lady Trojans in the game, leading all scorers with 14 points. But the biggest point came when South Pointe's Chelsea Douglas drained a free throw with five seconds remaining that pushed her team ahead by three, 41-38.
Northwestern's Kelia Shelton, who was held to four points, fired a desperation shot toward the basket that never had a chance.
Hemphill made the biggest defensive play, blocking Stewart's shot in the paint with 13.8 seconds left.
"I could see she was going to shoot,'' Hemphill said. "I put my hands in the air and jumped as high as I could.''
• NATION FORD 60, ROCK HILL 38 -- At Fort Mill, Nation Ford took one more step toward building its program as it learned how to build and protect a lead, crushing visiting Rock Hill behind 21 points from Katie Kozlowski.
The Lady Falcons (6-11, 3-5 Region 3-AAAA) usually live and die from behind the 3-point arc. Nation Ford hit two of its first three 3-pointers, but missed its next nine before Kozlowski ended the streak in the second half.
Even when their long shots weren't falling, the Lady Falcons created easy buckets in transition and took advantage of a dismal night from the free throw line by the Lady Bearcats (4-11, 2-7).
Nation Ford's lead grew to double digits at the half, in part to woeful free throw shooting from the Lady Bearcats. Rock Hill reached the bonus late in the first quarter when the referees whistled the Lady Falcons for 14 fouls.
The extra free throws ended up more of a hindrance for Rock Hill, as it converted just 6-of-17 from the charity stripe in the opening half. The Lady Bearcats had one free throw whipped off the board after a lane violation.
Nation Ford used its bonus shots as an asset. Rock Hill fouled Kozlowski on a desperation 3-pointer from just inside half-court as time expired in the first quarter. Kozlowski hit 2-of-3 free throws, but the two shots spurred an 8-2 run.
The run gave Nation Ford an 18-10 lead, and the Lady Bearcats never got any closer.
Kozlowski paced a balanced scoring attack. She hit three 3-pointers among her game-high 21 points, while Carson Trull added 14. Katlyn Smith had eight points off of the bench.
Rock Hill had just one player in double figures -- Paulette Rivers with 10 points. Rivers also had nine rebounds. Shandrice Erby and Laquesha Crockett each had eight points.
The win keeps Nation Ford ahead of Rock Hill in the Region 3-AAAA race, as both teams are still hoping for a shot at the playoffs.
• GREAT FALLS 49, LEWISVILLE 40 -- At Great Falls, Shardae Lynn scored five of her game-high 17 points in the final two minutes, lifting the Lady Red Devils over Lewisville.
Lynn's offensive explosion came after Lewisville (4-9, 1-4 Region 3-A) went on a 7-0 run to seize a 39-37 lead late in the contest. Lady Lions guard Courtney Sink connected with two 3-pointers and another jumper to spark the rally.
Lynn responded with a 3-pointer and added a layup after dribbling the length of the court for a 42-39 lead. Lewisville elected to put the Lady Devils on the free throw line within the final minute, but they were able to grab three key rebounds during that span.
"We got beat on the boards; we have to do a better job at rebounding," Lewisville coach Mary Hall said. "And we were not aggressive at pushing the ball up the court."
Great Falls coach Jeff Holmes reflected on the team's overall improvement by simply comparing their region record to last year's.
"It is good to be 4-1 in the league, especially after being 0-4 at this point last year," he said.
Great Falls (6-10, 4-1) rose into first place, tied with Indian Land and Chesterfield in the standings.
• CLOVER 52, FORT MILL 29 -- At Clover, the Lady Blue Eagles pulled away midway through the second quarter behind the strong inside play of junior Stephanie Dover, who had eight points in the frame.
Dover finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds to lead Clover to a win.
Dover is one of the few veterans on Clover's roster and, according to coach Michael Pearson, is finally beginning to shine after biding her time for the past two seasons.
"It's definitely good to get the win after losing five in a row in conference," Pearson said. "It shows the character of our team to be able to come back and still fight to be in the playoffs."
Clover (6-8, 3-5 Region 3-AAAA) continued to show signs of its youth as Fort Mill (3-14, 0-8) forced 18 turnovers.