Sports

Covering Eagles in Asheville was fun

Last week when my boss, Gary McCann, said he didn't know what to do because so much was going on and we really needed to cover the Big South Conference Women's Basketball Tournament in Asheville, N.C., I told him to look no further.

Yes, the sports guy who spends about 95 percent of his time on high school sports and the other five at his duties as assistant sports editor, really did volunteer, honest.

It wasn't done under the threat that if I didn't do it, I'd have to stay home and cover donkey basketball. It wasn't because of a lost bet. It wasn't done to score points with my bosses (do people really do that?).

Basically, most of my week would be spent writing stories about Winthrop and heading to Asheville early Friday for that night's game against Charleston Southern.

Why?

To be honest, it was a good getaway and I knew my wife would enjoy downtown Asheville as long as she didn't try to buy the place. She did well.

The real reason? I wanted to do it because I thoroughly enjoy women's (girls for high school) basketball. And because I had such a good time covering South Pointe High School during its record-breaking season -- most wins (26), first region championship, first team at the school to reach the Upper State championship -- I believed it would be fun to watch Winthrop in its record-breaking season.

And there is a tie-in. South Pointe's coach is Brett Childers, who did all of the above in his first season. Winthrop's coach is Bud Childers, Brett's father.

Wanted to find out if dad was a lot like his son and, -- CLICHE ALERT -- the saying that the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree kept coming to mind as I dealt with Winthrop last week.

Good coach. Great group of girls. Good administration. A heck of a job by the BSC putting on the tournament. A good job by the folks at UNC Asheville of making everyone feel at home.

Matter of fact, it was like having five siblings sleeping in the same room. UNCA's Justice Center holds only 1,100. It was like when you were young and got that electric football game you always wanted.

When the juice was cut on and the board began vibrating, all the players would slide to one corner of the board and get jammed in a scrum.

It was kind of like that at the Justice Center along press row. Before the tipoff of each game, the media folks would rush to try to be the first to reach press row. The backs of the chairs were touching the wall at the bottom of the stands, and once you sat down there was no getting up until everybody got up, unless you wanted to crawl under the table and onto the court.

Complaining? No. Why not? Been in high school gyms a lot tougher to navigate. Purpose for description? For me, atmosphere plays a big role in sporting events -- ever go to a Gaffney football game?

But back to the college level. It was a very good tournament. On Friday, host UNC Asheville, the No. 7 seed, took No. 2 Radford into double overtime before losing 72-64. Because of injuries and a couple of defections, UNC Asheville was down to seven active players as the walking wounded watched the game from the bench in street clothes.

They were down to six players by double overtime with one of the seven sitting on the bench with five fouls. Talk about fortitude.

Afterward, Winthrop played easily its best game of the season in a 76-41 win over Charleston Southern. Ashley Fann was on fire. She hit 11-of-14 shots from the field in leading Winthrop to a 42-percent shooting night. She scored 24 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.

As often happens in tournament play, Winthrop got a lift. Backup Ashley Haugtvedt, who played high school basketball with Fann in Alabama, tied her career high with 18 points.

Saturday was big for Winthrop. Top-seeded Liberty sat out the first round and took on High Point, a 62-51 winner over Coastal Carolina, in the semifinals.

Liberty took care of business and earned a trip the championship with an 80-43 victory. And in case you didn't know it (I didn't until Saturday) Liberty has triplets -- BSC Player of the Year Megan Frazee (6-foot-3), Molly Frazee (6-3) and Moriah Frazee (6-3).

Winthrop helped the BSC set another record with its win Friday, picking up 20 for the season and giving the league three teams with at least that many. It's the first time that has happened since the women's tournament began 22 years ago.

It also raised hope for Childers and his team.

As well as Winthrop played in its opener, it played equally as badly in the semifinals against Radford. The Eagles had ample opportunities to take control late in the second half, twice trailing by a point. But Radford beat Winthrop for the third time this season, 50-44, and advanced to the finals.

That at least gave Childers and his team hope that they still had a shot at the postseason. The goal was to win the tournament and go to the NCAA tournament.

Hope shifted to Radford beating Liberty for the BSC's automatic bid and Liberty getting a much-deserved bid with what would have been a fine 27-4 record. If it ended like that, Childers wondered aloud, then maybe the women's NIT would select Winthrop.

Close but so far away.

Liberty won the championship 66-65 on Megan Frazee's shot from underneath with :01 on the clock. The basket was good and likely wiped out any chance Winthrop had of making the postseason, despite its 20-12 record.

But it was a good year, one to build on when Winthrop gets back to the business of getting ready for next season. And it could be better than this year's with everybody back.

Maybe it will be different. But maybe Winthrop will win the close ones and be the team to beat come tournament time. And maybe the Eagles can make the next step and get to the NCAA tournament.

Regardless, it was fun watching Fann, Haugtvedt, Tiffany Rodd and Franchesca Davenport play, to meet them for the first time see and the class they showed while being interviewed. Sorry I didn't talk with guard Yvonne van Daalen. She played a heck of a floor game on Saturday.

Maybe next year ...

So, boss, letting you know in advance that I'm volunteering to cover it again. You don't have to let me know right away. Just let me. Please.

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