RONDA — Who doesn’t love free basketball? East Wilkes and Elkin fans got a treat Friday night as the two rivals clashed head-to-head, with the victor coming out in first place of the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference.
In the end, it was East Wilkes coming away with a 58-57 win in overtime to become the last remaining undefeated team in MVAC play. East Wilkes (8-4, 6-0 MVAC) senior Olivia Bullard and sophomore Alexis Pardue shared the scoring over the final four minutes to hand Elkin (14-1, 5-1 MVAC) its first loss of the season. Just to get that chance, the Cardinals had to chip away at Elkin’s lead it had maintained all the way through the third quarter. They managed to do just that, and with 10.7 seconds remaining, the Cardinals had one last shot to tie things up.
“We have multiple shooters and I tried to put them all in the game and give them a chance, and if one of them was open, it’s your time to shine,” East Wilkes Head Coach Matt Campbell said.
Down 52-49, the Cardinals had to rush down the court and find someone outside the perimeter. A pass came to senior Chelsea Edwards, but she was well covered. As time ticked down to the final seconds, the crowd and bench yelled shoot, and she did. Off balance and with one hand, Edwards tossed a shot into the air.
“It was a very awkward shot but when it left my hands I was thinking, ‘Oh my. This might go in,’” Edwards said.
Buzzer. Swish, and the game was tied. The crowd and the bench erupted as one, in absolute disbelief as the Cardinals were given new life.
“At the end of the day, if I could have taken a video camera and showed the excitement that all of them had for each other, that’s what makes high school athletics special,” Campbell said.
There were opposite emotions on opposite sides of the court, as Elkin, who had led up until the final minute of the game, suddenly found itself trying to hold back the momentum that the Cardinals had gained.
“I’m disappointed, but it’s conference basketball on the road. I give credit to East, they finished the deal,” Head Coach Derek Carter said. “But, I thought we had it. Just like getting to 14-0, I’ve been really proud of the girls.”
The Lady Elks led 17-5 after the first quarter, with junior Kylie Thomas devouring the Cardinals’ defense early with 11 points in the first eight minutes. However, the Cardinals showed no quit as they progressively got better at forcing Elkin to go against what had been working for it for the majority of the season. The Lady Elks normally don’t rely on 3-point shooting, but they took 15 in the first half, which is slightly under the average number of attempts they make a game.
“I think we got a little gun-happy, and then we got some foul trouble. I think they really hurt us on defense than they did offensively,” Carter said.
While it’s the Lady Elks’ first loss, what they’ve been able to do thus far has been remarkable. They’re battle tested, and were one desperation shot away in regulation, and one shot that bounced off the back of the rim by Samantha Cozart away from another victory. They still have eight games remaining in the regular season, and there are still plenty of goals that remain attainable for this team. They’ll get to host a rematch against East Wilkes on Feb. 9, which could possibly determine the regular season champion for the MVAC. Additionally, for state tournament purposes, Elkin entered the night ranked second in 1A play, according to MaxPreps.com, and have only dropped to third following the loss.
East Wilkes, meanwhile, has a three-game winning streak on its hands, but the road does not get any easier for it. The Lady Cards have got North Wilkes (14-1, 5-1 MVAC) Tuesday night, whose lone loss of the season came to Elkin earlier this month. The stakes are high, as a loss could put them into a three-way tie for first place.
“It’s great to say we’re undefeated in conference, but we’re going to have to work to keep that,” Edwards said. “North is going to be tough, and we’re going to have to play like we did tonight and be on our A-game to be able to stay in the game with them and hopefully win.”
Elkin travels to Wilkes Central (11-5, 4-2 MVAC) Tuesday night, then Starmount (2-13, 1-5 MVAC) on Friday night. Along with hosting North Wilkes, East Wilkes travels to West Wilkes (4-11, 1-5 MVAC) Friday night.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.