Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
WALKERTOWN — As it has demonstrated throughout this varsity girls basketball season, Wilson Christian has more than one, two or even three players who can beat you.
In Saturday’s North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A championship game against Union Grove Christian of Lexington, it was Kayla Tant’s turn to shine. In her final game, the 5-foot-4 senior guard scored a career-high 20 points to help the Lady Chargers win 52-50 and take the program’s fifth NCCSA title in head coach Brian Trull’s 20 seasons.
“It goes back to winning with a team that feels like family,” said Tant, who connected on 6-of-13 3-point attempts in the final played at Gospel Light Christian. “And I’m really sad about it. It’s over, but I’m happy that we won. It’s a great way to go out.”
Their ninth straight win didn’t come easy for the Lady Chargers, the East No. 1 seed who finished 24-9. West No. 1 Union Grove (25-3), after trailing by 12 points at halftime, were looking at a 40-27 deficit after three quarters. But the Lady Patriots steadily chopped into WCA’s lead and, after junior point guard Katelyn Rackard scored with 24 seconds to play, the Lady Chargers were clinging to a 51-50 lead, but not about to panic.
“We just kept telling each other to calm down and play our own game, and not worry about the time,” Tant said. “And I just kept telling people to just hold the ball, and that’s exactly what we do: We play our own game and calm down.”
Wilson Christian remained calm, even after losing possession after a deflected inbounds pass ricocheted off a Lady Charger and out of bounds, giving the Lady Patriots the ball with 14 seconds to play.
“We lost nine games this year, but I think all nine of those games were important to our success,” Trull said. “It made us better playing tougher opponents and it made us better able to withstand some things that we faced tonight.”
Union Grove misfired on a shot that would have it given it the lead but Lady Chargers junior Lea Gossett was there for the rebound and was fouled with 4.3 seconds left. Gossett hit the front end of the 1-and-1 but missed the second, just in time for Rackard to get the ball and launch a running 3-pointer at the buzzer. It only hit the backboard, leading to a wild, on-the court celebration for Wilson Christian a year after the Lady Chargers came up short in the NCCSA 2-A final against Alamance Christian.
“It felt great when the fans rushed the floor and we were all celebrating together on the court after the buzzer sounded,” Tant said.
Trull added: “I told them in the locker room that I have never enjoyed a celebration — I said it’s number five — but I’ve never been in the middle of a group that rushed the court and it was just awesome!”
Tant emerged as likely a hero as any of her teammates as she got the hot hand just a day after having a cold one in WCA’s 44-30 win over Gospel Light in Friday’s semifinals.
“I don’t know, last night my shots weren’t falling so I just kept telling myself I guess they weren’t going to fall until tonight,” she said.
But, as she said Trull often reminds her, a shooter keeps shooting and that’s what Tant did Saturday.
“I made the first one I shot but then I missed a couple of them,” she said. “Every other one just kept falling, like every other one.”
The Lady Chargers hit 9-of-24 shots from 3-point range.
As usual, the scoring was spread around. Senior Ashley Hartsfield had 10 points while fellow seniors Olivia Vick and Madison Carnes, along with Gossett, each scored seven. Gossett added three assists and three steals while Vick had four assists and Carnes posted seven rebounds and four steals.
Trull said this group displayed an exceptional ability to work together and to do so urgently when needed.
“They understand their role and really they understood when it was time for them to step up,” said Trull, who has taken WCA to seven state finals appearances. “They did the right things in practice to prepare and when it was their time they were always ready. When you look at a game like what Kayla had — hitting six 3s — it just goes to show you that you can’t key on any one player. It makes us incredibly hard to guard and I really think that was one of the big keys to our success but I’m just telling you: We played the two best defensive games, last night and tonight, that we have played all season. That was a collective defense. It wasn’t one person locking anybody down, it was all five of those who were out there at the time playing exceptional defense. We’re not always known for defense, but tonight and last night, we were just absolutely exceptional when it really counted.”
Rackard’s 16 points led Union Grove, which had its 21-game winning streak ended, while senior Abby Bailey had 11 points and junior Faith Hauser added 10 points.
Carnes, Hartsfield and Vick were named to the NCCSA 2-A All-State and All-East Region teams while freshman point guard Kate Hoskins earned all-region acclaim.
Trull said that while he didn’t consider his team the one to beat at the season’s outset, he knew they had a chance with eight seniors back off the 2018-19 state runner-up squad.
“I didn’t necessarily think we were the favorite,” he said. “I knew Union Grove was good and Gospel Light had a really good player, too. I felt like we could make it to the championship game and once we got there, we would see how it all played out.”
The seniors, particularly the four starters — Tant, Carnes, Hartsfield and Vick — were the nucleus of the tightknit group.
“Those four seniors were just incredible and we had some others — Paige Petty, Lydia Renfrow, Madison Bass and Kayla Provo — who were important parts of the team,” Trull said. “But those four seniors really contributed on the court. They were huge. As Kayla said, in the huddles in the last two and a half minutes they were talking to each other as much as I was talking to them and calming each other down and saying, ‘Look, we’ve been here, we know how to do this and let’s do it.’
“That was special!”
WILSON CHRISTIAN (52)
Tant 20, Hartsfield 10, Carnes 7, Vick 7, Gossett 7, Hoskins 1.
UNION GROVE CHRISTIAN (50)
Rackard 16, Abby Bailey 11, Faith Hauser 10, Sierra Ward 9, J. Ward 4.
Score by quarters:
Wilson Christian 10 16 14 12 — 52
Union Grove Chr. 7 7 13 23 — 50