Ellis’ girls memorable season ends in semis

Published 11:02 am Wednesday, February 8, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

It ended cruelly for the Ellis girls basketball team, which led by six in the fourth quarter. It ended painfully, a 47-45 overtime loss in the conference tournament semifinals at Phoenix Academy.

But over time, the memory of how the season ended will fade and be replaced by an appreciation for how the record-setting season unfolded.

“We cannot express how proud we are of the team,” coach Susan Jones said after the Jaguars finished 12-4. “This was an emotional and stress-filled game. The few things that each team did that could have made it go either way is not what I want to review or remember. I have told the girls there is a reason for everything. In time, we hope they each learn what this loss gave them individually. We want the girls to remember the incredible season they started and finished together, the selfless way they played for one another, the family we created and the will continue to be a part of as we follow them over the years to come. Forever a Jaguar. Jeff (Jones) and I love them all.”

Ellis 41, SD 21

In the first round on Jan. 31, the third-seeded Jaguars found their stride in the second quarter and cruised to their third blowout win over the No. 6 Tigers.

To do it, Ellis had to overcome a monster game from South’s Londyn McDowell, who singlehandedly gave the visitors a 5-4 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Ellis asserted itself in the second, with Olivia Smith, Gracyn Coleman, Emmie Burris and Cayleigh Love sharing the scoring during a blistering 17-3 run. Ellis kept pounding away in the third.

“(The second quarter) is when Emmie, as usual, stepped up and changed the momentum,” Jones said. “She ran point for a few minutes. She took it upcourt, did a nice around-the-back move, drove into the lane and dished to Olivia in the low post for two points. The spark was lit and each player was tenacious defensively. Gracyn had a steal and took the ball fullcourt for a layup.”

Smith was the catalyst with 14 points, nine rebounds and two assists – marking her seventh straight game in double figures. Coleman had nine points and five steals. Burris collected eight points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists. Love had six points, while Kate Nicholson and Olivia Rareshide had two points apiece.

“Cayleigh came off the bench, bringing the energy and consistency we need from her,” Jones said. “Kate has improved a lot with her passes. She is strong and makes her cross-court passes well.”

Ellis overcame a dominating effort by McDowell, who scored 17 of South’s 21. Vivian Vaughters and Alleson Cothren had two each.

Phoenix 47, Ellis 45 (OT)

In the semifinals at top-seeded Phoenix Academy on Feb. 2, two teams that split in the regular season fought tooth and nail for four quarters – and then some.

Burris’ eight-point first kept Ellis from falling behind by a significant margin, and Phoenix carried a 21-17 lead to halftime. Love and Smith were the driving forces that lifted Ellis to a 32-31 lead at the end of the third.

“From a spectator’s perspective, this was an amazing rollercoaster game to watch,” Jones said. “From our perspective, it was a pressure-packed game resulting in a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking loss.”

Ellis broke out to a six-point lead in the fourth, appearing destined to meet Summit in the championship game. (“Our ladies caught fire,” Jones said.) But Phoenix had other plans. The hosts stormed back to force a tie at 41.

Phoenix outscored Ellis 6-4 in OT to squeak out a thriller that saw neither team lead by more than seven.

Love delivered an inspiring game with 14 points, or 10 over her average. The sixth grader also had five rebounds, three steals and two assists.

“She is going to be incredible to watch as she develops even more,” Jones said.

Burris (14 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals) and Smith (10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) played leading roles like they often have.

“Emmie is the best utility player we have seen all season on any of the teams we have played, and that is saying a lot,” Jones said. “Smith’s defensive game really stepped up the last three games, and I am so proud of how she has been battling on the inside against girls who probably outweigh her by 30-40 pounds.”

Coleman, who brought havoc-wreaking defense every game, had five points, five steals and two assists. Madison Daugherty contributed two points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds.

“Gracyn had a tremendously strong defensive game,” she said. “Her fearlessness and tenacity make her a player I want on my team all the time. Madison played her most aggressive defensive game.”

Playing with enormous heart and passion, the Jaguars had a memorable ride while setting program records for wins and longest winning streak (seven). Smith (10.6) and Burris (9.3) were the top two scorers. Kayden Richardson, who missed the last eight games with an injury, was No. 3 at 7.6. Coleman was next at 5.1. Five girls played in their final Ellis game: Burris, Quinn Cornatzer, Daugherty, Nicholson and Richardson.

“We told them before the game started that they needed to give it everything they had, leaving everything on the floor, because there would not be a tomorrow to play if they didn’t,” Jones said. “And every one of them stepped up and played their hearts out.”

WCA 38, ND 27

In the first round on Jan. 31, fourth-seeded Wesleyan Christian Academy beat North Davie for the third time and drew the curtain on Trish King’s long coaching career.

“We didn’t have one of our better games,” King said after No. 5 North finished 7-7. “We struggled with our shots and had too many turnovers.”

Avarie Martin, who led North with eight points, paced the county in scoring as she posted the highest average by a Wildcat (15.9) in 10 years. Hayden Gavura had seven and Maddie Ratledge six. Landry Parsons, Britt Carrier and Audrina Bledsoe had two each.

King has been a fixture at North since the mid-1990s. She guided the volleyball program for 27 years and coached basketball for 25.

“I really hated to end our season on such a bad game,” she said. “However, what a great group of girls to end my career with. I not only saw so much improvement this season, but I also saw a group of girls come together as a team. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this team – their parents and our season. I’ve learned it’s not always about the win-loss column or the championships at the end of the season. It’s more about the experience of the season and the ride along the way. I have so many memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. I hope I have impacted many young lives as much as they have impacted mine. I am truly blessed to have coached in this county.”