By David Rogers. MORGANTON, N.C. — On a night when the Watauga women’s basketball team starters weren’t shooting the ball particularly well, they got a surprise spark from the bench in a tense, 39-33 win. Sophomore guard Julie Matheson was good on 3-for-3 from behind the 3-point arc and was a perfect 2-for-2 from the free throw line, matching junior Charlotte Torgerson for team high honors with 11 points on the night, Feb. 16, in the semifinals of the Northwestern Conference tournament hosted by Freedom High School.
It was the fourth time during the 2022-23 season that the Pioneers and the Huskies have faced off against each other and you could tell by the defensive play that these two High Country adversaries know each other pretty well. While Watauga has won by larger margins in previous games against Ashe County this season, the Huskies kept things close by anticipating and interfering with Watauga’s passing lanes, including 7 steals on the night spread among five different Husky players.
To win, the Pioneers had to survive a standout, all around performance by Ashe County junior guard, Paige Overcash. The athletic, 6-0 guard pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds while also recording a game-high 13 points while adding a pair of assists and two steals to round out her evening’s stat line. Fellow guard Abby Sheets pulled down 9 rebounds and was 4-for-5 from the free throw line, pouring in 11 points on the night.
Where Watauga seemed more effective, especially in the first half, was on the defensive boards, rebounding the basketball on errant Husky shots and preventing second chance opportunities. If Watauga had a bad night shooting — just 30.2 percent from the field (13-43) and only 21.1 percent from the 3-point arc — Ashe County was even worse, only 24.5 percent from the field and just 6.7 percent (1-for-15) from long range.
To their credit, Ashe County kept the Pioneers’ usual high-scoring guard tandem of sophomore guard Kate Sears and Torgerson all but bottled up. Torgerson matched her season average of 11 points per game thanks to 5-of-5 shooting from the charity stripe late in the game when the Huskies were in foul mode, trying to get the ball back.
Sears, though, was well off her season-long average of 20.4 points per game, with just six points of offensive production on this night. Uncharacteristically, the all-state phenom in her freshman season had an off night while being challenged by whatever Ashe County quintet was on the floor. Sears was just 3-of-13 from the floor, including 0-for-5 from behind the 3-point arc. And while normally getting to the free throw line with her fearless, drive-to-the-basket style, against the Huskies in the NWC tournament semifinals she was 0-1 in free throw attempts.
Although Sears may have stumbled in her own point production, she more than made up for it in rebounding (9) game-highs in assists (5) and steals (3) while distributing the ball effectively from her point guard position.
After the game, Watauga head coach Laura Barry pointed out that much of Ashe County’s scoring came in transition, after missed Pioneer shots.
“They know us now,” said Barry, “and I think they did a very good job in (anticipating) our tendencies. A lot of their scoring was in transition. We just didn’t shoot very well tonight. We come out of this game looking back at making 13-of-43 shooting, which is better than Ashe County’s 12-of-49, but it was just a (terrible) game, offensively. You can credit the defense or just say that both teams shot the ball poorly.
“I thought our kids stuck it out very well, but on our misses, we weren’t getting back like we want to be,” Barry added. “Kate did a good job of taking care of the ball. When you are missing your shots, you have to take care of the ball. She has a huge focus for the defense of the opposing team and she did a good job of finding people although we had a lot of back door cuts that we simply blew, (but I was impressed by) our kids’ movement away from the ball when the defense was focused on Kate. Every shot Kate took were shots we wanted her to take. She had a number of good pull-up jumpers in the first half, but just didn’t hit them.”
With that, Barry turned her attention to the real positives of the night.
“What a huge step-up by Julie Matheson,” said Barry. “She had three 3-pointers and as a team we had just four. That’s a kid we’ve brought in from the bench all year. She has managed to buy into that role even though she was more time. Tonight she proved, ‘Hey, I am here when you need me.'”
Watauga now turns its attention to the finals, slated for Friday, Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m., against the team with whom the Pioneers shared the regular season championship: Hibriten. The Panthers were 54-44 winners over Alexander Central in the other women’s semifinal matchup on Feb. 16.
Although they shared the regular season NWC title with Hibriten, Watauga comes into the tournament championship game with something to prove. The Pioneers lost a close one to the Panthers on Jan. 12, 48-45, on the Lentz Eggers Gym floor. For the home team at least it was a rather chaotic night because a classroom fire down the hall from the gymnasium disrupted the team’s normal routine in preparation. When the teams met for the second time, on Feb. 3 in Lenoir, a number of the Watauga players, including Sears and Torgerson, were sick with the flu and Hibriten prevailed, 64-50, while being allowed by the game officials to play a highly physical style, with close quarters contact.
So now presumably healthy on a neutral court at Freedom HS in Morganton and with perhaps a different orientation of referees, the Pioneers aim to make the third encounter a charm, indeed.
SELECTED KEY PEFORMERS ON FEB. 16 VS. ASHE COUNTY
- ASH Paige Overcash: 13 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
- WAT Julie Matheson: 11 points, including 3-for-3 from behind the arc
- WAT Charlotte Torgerson: 11 points, 2 assists, 1 steal
- ASH Abby Sheets: 11 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal
- ASH Morgan Phipps: 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
- WAT Kate Sears: 9 rebounds, 6 points, 5 assists, 3 steals
- WAT Laurel Kiker: 6 rebounds, 1 point
- ASH Lexie Dawson: 5 rebounds, 5 points, 1 assist, 1 steal