The Fayetteville Lady Rockets entered play at the 2015 Brown County Holiday Classic looking to keep the drive for three straight titles alive.
Fayetteville took home titles under head coach Toby Sheets in 2013 and 2014 and while a third straight championship would be impressive, it’s important to note the streak is nowhere near the longest in tournament history. That particular honor belongs to Eastern, who won titles from 1998 to 2003 and if it weren’t for Georgetown sneaking in with a victory in 2004 that streak would have continued to 2007.
Regardless, the Lady Rockets took to the court at Western Brown High School Tuesday night against the Georgetown Lady G-Men looking for a victory. A late Georgetown rally was not enough, and the Lady Rockets would escape with a 47-44 victory.
Fayetteville held Georgetown to just one field goal in the first quarter, a two-point basket by Taylor McKinney. However, they allowed the Lady G-Men to shoot eight foul shots, which kept them in the game.
Samantha Murphy was one of four Lady Rockets to score in the quarter, hitting a three-pointer early. She would hit a second triple in the second quarter, but Rachel Gibbons hit two for Georgetown and the Lady G-Men entered the halftime break leading 26-19.
Georgetown would make six three-pointers in the game, something that did not surprise Fayetteville head coach Toby Sheets.
“I knew they would be able to shoot the three,” Sheets said. “They are 33 percent three-point shooters but they’ve only taken 36 the entire season. Samantha’s probably shot 80 herself this season. He’s more of a high-percentage coach and they do a fine job.”
Murphy had just six points at halftime, but she dominated the third quarter. The senior scored 13 of Fayetteville’s 15 points, including three three-point shots, and her play allowed Fayetteville to enter the fourth quarter trailing by just two points at 36-34.
“We depend a lot on Samantha,” Sheets said. “She’s been off for a while, even in practice she hadn’t been shooting that great, but we know that she can and we need her to. She’s a confident player, I’ll give her that. A lot of kids when they get into a slump don’t want to shoot out of it.”
Sheets said he was preparing to make a change defensively to spark the team when Murphy provided a spark for them.
“I was on the verge of doing something defensively that we weren’t doing,” Sheets said. “Pressing or going to man. They wanted to slow things down, especially when they got the lead, and I was on the verge of switching when Sam hit that big three.”
She wasn’t the only Lady Rocket hitting clutch shots.
Early in the fourth quarter, Taylor Cornett connected on her first basket of the game, a corner three-pointer that gave Fayetteville the 37-36 lead.
“Cornett’s a nice shooter,” Sheets said. “She’s come a long ways. She was all JV last year. She can shoot it and that was a big bucket.”
Fayetteville and Georgetown battled through the remainder of the game, and after Cecilia Murphy hit one of two free-throws to put her team up 47-44, the Lady G-Men had a shot to tie the game. However, both of their three-point attempts within the final five seconds clanked off the rim, and Fayetteville moved on.
The Lady Rockets do have some work to do, however. The team missed four free-throws in the final quarter and only hit on six of 12 in the game. Five of those six misses belonged to Cecilia Murphy, and Sheets says that’s not something that will continue.
“We pride ourselves on free-throws,” Sheets said. “It’s something we work on tremendously. She’ll get there though, and she’s a difference maker. That kid can play. I like her in the full court by herself.”
Fayetteville advanced to play Eastern in the finals of the Brown County Holiday Classic. For more information on that game as well as the rest of the tournament, be sure to check out the Jan. 3, 2016 edition of the News Democrat.