Jaguar Power: Ellis girls brush bejeebies for perfect season

Published 2:27 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Davie Enterprise Record

West Rowan scared the bejeebies out of the Ellis girls basketball team in the Tri-County Conference Tournament championship game, but the Jaguars did what they had to do to complete a legendary 17-0 season.

With a hairbreadth escape (48-47), the Jaguars joined a short list of 17-0 teams in Davie County’s 31-year middle school history.

“We knew this was going to be a challenging game because even when we played them the first time, it wasn’t decided until late in the third when we made a run that they couldn’t recover from,” coach Susan Jones said. “So we never expected this game to be easy.”

Ellis 46, NR 17

In the quarterfinals at China Grove on Dec. 9, the Jaguars had an easy time eliminating fourth-seeded North Rowan. With Olivia Smith and Gracie Shore scoring nine points apiece in the first quarter, it was 24-2 and the margin kept growing in the middle quarters.

“We told the girls we wanted them to make it clear to (North) why we were 14-0 and the No. 1 team in our division,” Jones said. “We wanted our girls to go out focused and jump on them fast. Defensively we did exactly that.”

Shore (17 points, seven assists, six steals), Gracyn Coleman (10 points, four steals), Smith (nine points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals, two blocks), Zoe Summers (eight points, eight rebounds, two steals) and Sydney Ward (two points, two steals) shared the production.

“Olivia played a solid well-rounded game,” Jones said. “Zoe’s toughness and speed enabled her to be strong inside the paint.”

Ellis 48, Moor 19

For the 16th time this season, Ellis steamrolled. The headliner in the Dec. 11 matchup with No. 3 Mooresville was Smith, who scored 20 points, hit six 3-pointers, piled up 12 steals and snatched five boards.

“Smith played lights out,” Jones said after the semifinal game at Corriher-Lipe. “Her read on the ball and arm span just prevented most of the inroads Mooresville tried to make into the paint.”

While Shore (14 points, seven steals, three assists) played a typical starring role, Coleman (seven points, seven steals), Summers (five points, four rebounds, three steals, two assists) and Layla Hazlip (two points, three rebounds) helped Ellis advance to the title game.

“Gracie and Gracyn were on point defensively, creating their usual chaos and giving frustration to anyone bringing the ball up the court or holding the ball in their hands,” Jones said.

Ellis 48, WR 47

Ellis’ final victory unfolded in an unfamiliar way. After outscoring the first 15 opponents (one win was a forfeit) by an aggregate 768-246, after winning every game by 19 or more, the Jaguars had to huff and puff to close the deal on 17-0 perfection.

The wild and wooly escape over No. 2 West Rowan at Corriher-Lipe on Dec. 13 was a classic case of all’s well that ends well.

How did West make the Jags sweat? Shore was whistled for three fouls in the first quarter, she barely played in the first half and her team was out of sorts. The Bulldogs, who lost to Ellis by 20 on Nov. 8, led 8-4 after one quarter. They still led by four (16-12) at halftime.

“Gracie picked up three quick fouls, forcing us to sit her for the end of the first quarter and all of the second,” Jones said. “Throughout the rest of the half, we had to adjust our defense for playing without Gracie, who is the tip of our spear defensively.

“We also took into account the court being a little shorter, which played to the advantage of West Rowan, who is quick and runs the ball. This hindered our quick steals and conversions because they could get back on defense faster. While our defense was not generating the turnovers we are accustomed to creating, West was moving the ball well. West is much taller and played an aggressive 1-2-2 defense that pushed out on our shooters.

“But our girls battled and found a rhythm in the closing minutes of the second quarter.”

The Jaguars kept their cool and surged to a 32-31 lead at the end of the third. Shore returned to the court in a big way, scoring eight of the 20 in the third.

“The girls came out fired up in the third, with our defense pressuring the ball hard,” Jones said. “And it wasn’t long before Olivia Smith lit the fire by dropping her first 3. This defensive surge in turn caused West to make multiple turnovers, allowing for 10 of our girls’ 15 steals to happen during this quarter. Gracyn dropped a 3 of her own in the stretch.”

Shore and Smith did the heavy lifting on offense in the fourth. Ellis charged to a 48-42 lead with 1:20 to go and held on.

“Gracie and Olivia Smith played a huge factor, giving us the lead we needed and the momentum,” Jones said. “West’s No. 24 (who had 21 points) was also on fire. So with three minutes to go, we called timeout and switched defenses, giving Gracyn the instructions to not let 24 touch the ball, while Gracie (playing with four fouls) was given the duty to deny the point guard the ball. The rest of the girls held the paint tight and we forced West to use their other players to beat us. That switch helped us stave off West from having a successful rally.”

Shore (16 points, eight rebounds, six steals, four assists) and Smith (13 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks) filled the stat sheet. Then Coleman (seven points, six steals, two assists), Hazlip (six points, five rebounds), Summers (five points, three steals) and S. Ward (one point, two blocks) held up their end of the bargain as Ellis became the third girls team in the county to run the table.

Shelia Tribble’s South Davie eighth-grade team went 17-0 in 1998-99. Tim Kenney’s South Davie seventh-grade team went 13-0 in 2001-02. Trish King’s North Davie team went 17-0 in 2012-13.

Shore, who scored 30 in a game to break Emma Slabach’s single-game record, shattered the mark for scoring average at 18.7. But it was a three-headed monster that made Ellis all-time great. Smith averaged 12.1 and Coleman 10.7.

The top averages in Ellis history: Shore 18.7, Slabach 14.4 in 2014-15, Bailey Aderhold 14.1 in 2021-22 and Slabach 13.6 in 2013-14. Smith’s 12.1 is good for fifth place. Amy Steller averaged 10.7 in 2008-09, and Coleman’s 10.7 is tied for sixth.

Notes: Fifth-seeded South Davie fell in the first round at No. 4 Selma Burke. The Tigers dropped their last five games and finished 5-10. … No. 6 North Davie lost 39-28 at Mooresville in the first round. Jaynie Patton and Callaway Spillman had nine points each. Zariya Oliver had eight and Mabyn Morris two. North went 1-14.