Murphy hits the road to battle Avery County in 4th round
Newland – For the first time this postseason, the Murphy Lady Bulldogs looked vulnerable.
Clinging to a 48-40 lead with 3:30 left in regulation, Murphy (26-4) started falling susceptable to every possible thing that could get the Lady Vikings (21-7) back in the game.
A trio of costly turnovers soon morphed into Avery's Regan McKinney draining a deep three with 12 seconds left in the game and for the first time all year, Murphy was forced into overtime.
But the free basketball proved to be a wake-up call for the Lady Dogs, as clutch shooting led Murphy to a 68-63 triumph.
"What a great atmosphere. What a great high school basketball atmosphere," said Murphy head coach Ray Gutierrez. "A lot of people complain about the playoff system in the state, but what a fourth-round game. You couldn't have had a better atmosphere. The Avery people were loud. We've seen that this year, at our house, Hiwassee Dam and Cherokee. People want to see good basketball. They definitely saw that tonight."
Avery County (No. 2 West seed) certainly didn't make things easy throughout the tilt. Back-to-back buckets to begin the game put Murphy in a 4-0 hole, but the Lady Bulldogs did what they do, responding with a 10-0 run that was capped off by consecutive trey's from Aubrey Clapsaddle and Torin Rogers. Despite a raucous, albeit cordial crowd, Murphy led 15-9 at the end of the frame.
The momentum continually shifted throughout the second, with Avery County coming out on the better end of the tide. The Lady Bulldogs built a 22-9 lead, but some sloppy defense allowed the Lady Vikings to get right back in it and cut the deficit to 27-20 at the break.
More mental errors gave way to Avery County creeping back in the third, but the Lady Vikings were plagued by missing a bevy of easy layups all night, especially under heavy Murphy pressure, which might very well have led to their undoing. Avery cut the deficit to one on three separate occasions, but could not break through until the closing seconds of the game.
Rogers made her presence known inside during the third, helping Murphy pull away with a 37-32 lead. Avery County promptly sliced things back to 37-36, sparking a heart-pounding fourth quarter.
Clapsaddle, who finished the game with six shots from beyond the arc, drained a pair in the fourth that built Murphy to its 48-40 advantage. Once overtime kicked in, she joined Kaiya Pickens in the process of dropping two more from outside, with the latter's trey coming with 24 seconds left in the extra segment.
"I was just feeding off the energy of my teammates," Clapsaddle said. "I wanted to come in here with no regret and that got me into the gym (before Tuesday) to get some extra shooting in.
"This game was definitely nerve-wracking. We lost the lead, but that's not really something we were thinking about when we got into overtime. To us, that was the start of another game."
Avery County managed to get the ball back into the hands of McKinney again with 12 seconds left, but her corner-3 sailed over the basket and into the waiting hands of Murphy, with Pickens later sinking two foul shots to seal the Lady Vikings' fate.
All told, Clapsaddle finished the game with a team-high 24 points, while also nabbing a trio of both rebounds and steals.
"I'm so proud of her," Gutierrez said. "People don't understand how much time she puts into this. I'll never forget, the day we lost to Hayesville (Murphy's last loss on Jan. 10), coming back home … Aubrey was in the gym until about 11:30 that night, shooting. That stuff makes this worth it."
Sydni Addison shined once again, recording a double-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds, one steal and two assists. Rogers also had a big night, accumulating 16 points, five rebounds, six assists and one block.
Also scoring for Murphy was Pickens 5, plus Brianna Moore, Ellie Martin and Sarah Pullium with two each.
For Avery County, Heaven Nelson scored a Lady Vikings-best 20 points. Others to score were Hannah McIntosh 16, McKenzie Franklin 12, McKinney 6, Faith Daniels 6 and Reagan Hughes 3.
Murphy (No. 3 seed) will now travel to Hickory on Saturday for its second-straight Final Four appearance.
Opposing the Lady Bulldogs will be the No. 1-seeded East Surry Lady Cardinals (26-2), who downed Union Academy (No. 1) in a 64-47 Elite Eight game in Pilot Mountain.
The game will either be held at Lenoir-Rhyne University's Shuford Gymnasium or Catawba Valley Community College's Tarlton Complex.
"If they're in the Final Four, they're good," Gutierrez said. "It'll be fun. This is huge. I never dreamt when we came here three years ago that we'd be in the Elite Eight and two Final Fours. It's all about the kids.
"They're warriors. They could've quit very easily tonight, but they kept hanging around."
"Last season, we suffered that hard loss, so every game this year was motivation," Clapsaddle said. "We're hungry. We want to win."
A start time has yet to be announced. Visit our Cherokee Scout Twitter account, @thescoutsports, for the official announcement of venue and time for Saturday.