The Murphy Lady Bulldogs celebrate Tuesday night, moments after the final buzzer sounded on their 55-32 win over the Cherokee Lady Braves. The home victory sends Murphy to the Final Four of the 1A state playoffs. Photo by KEVIN HENSLEY

Murphy girls battle Cherokee in state Elite 8

   Murphy – There are no ifs, ands or buts about it: Murphy dominated the Cherokee Lady Braves on Tuesday night.
    After much hype and anticipation, the fourth game between the top two girls teams in the Smoky Mountain Conference turned out to be a one-sided affair. Murphy (27-2) advanced to the Final Four of the state playoffs with a 55-32 win over Cherokee.
    “The pace of play was good early, but they just didn’t shoot very well tonight,” Gutierrez said. “We’ve worked very hard this past week, running along the 3-point line, defending and closing out good. I knew that was part of them, but it’s part of us as well.”
    The game was tight in the early going, tied 5-5 until the Lady Dogs went on a 6-0 run that was capped by a steal from Ellie Martin and a subsequent basket by Brianna Moore. Jessica Beckner later recorded a 3-point play that sent the game into the second with Murphy on top, 14-8.
    The game quickly got out of hand in the second quarter. After Cherokee’s Shelby Wolfe recorded a 3-point play of her own that cut Murphy’s lead down to 16-11, the Lady Bulldogs stampeded the Lady Braves defense by going on a 15-0 run before halftime.
    The once-loud visitors bleachers were abnormally quiet in the second half, as Beckner and Sydni Addison formed a dangerous duo inside that the Lady Braves had no answer for.
    Beckner’s 18 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals and five blocks led the Lady Bulldogs’ offense. Addison finished the game with 12 points, eight boards and three assists.
    Murphy (No. 3 seed) will now hit the road for the first time this postseason, as they will face the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year, the reigning-state champion Mount Airy Lady Granite Bears (No. 1 seed, 25-2) on Saturday. The game is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Lawrence-Joel Coliseum on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.
    “I’m just proud for our school, more than anything,” Gutierrez said. “Where we came from over the last two years and where we are now, it’s good to get another crack at the state champions. They’re a good basketball team; they’re state champions for a reason.”

   Moore sparks the Lady Bulldogs off the bench