Cougar girls advance to state championship

     Galax–  In dramatic fashion the Pulaski County girls basketball team advanced to the Class 4 state championship game against Lake Taylor Thursday at 6 pm in Richmond with a come-from-behind, 63-58 win over Carroll County Tuesday evening in Galax.
      It couldn’t have started any worse for the Cougars who quickly fell behind 16-2, and trailed, 18-7 at the end of the first quarter as the Cavaliers shot 70%, making seven of 10 hots, four of them from three-point range.
      But gradually the Cougars worked themselves back into the game in the second quarter behind the strong inside play of Ally Fleenor, and Alaina Akers hit two, three-point shots. The lead was cut in half at the break, 30-23.
      Then came a third quarter that saw Fleenor dominate the game. The Cougar freshman hit five consecutive shots from the field, two of them threes, and the other three inside power moves. Guard Maddie Radcliffe’s floor game got the Cougars moving, and Pulaski Co. outscored Carroll, 21-9 in the third quarter to take a, 44-39 lead and they would never again trail.
     Down the stretch the Cougar gals were hotter than a two-dollar pistol from the free throw line. Ratcliffe at one stretch hit 10 straight and 11 of 12 free throws. Fleenor hit all six of her free throw attempts in a game and the Cougars were 24 of 30 from the stripe for the game. Fleenor was also a demon in the paint with a dozen rebounds.
     Down the stretch Ratcliffe controlled the offense and the ball and the Cavaliers were forced to foul and she hit clutch free throw after clutch free throw. With 50 seconds left to play Ratcliffe gave the Cougars their biggest lead of the night from the charity stripe at, 60-51, and suddenly the Cougar gals were on their way to Richmond.
      It was the fourth time the two schools had played this season and it ended in a 2-2 split. Pulaski County is now 22-8 on the season, Carroll 20-7. Their title game opponent, Lake Taylor defeated Deep Creek, 65-50.
       PCHS coach Brad Sutphin was trilled with his team’s clutch play. “I felt if we kept it close we would take them to the wire. I didn’t anticipate falling behind, 16-2. That was scary, but these girls are tough as nails. To come from so far back, to make clutch plays, and hit free throws like that when you have to have them is really something. I’ve never had a team to face pressure like that, and perform that great. I am so proud of these girls. It’s a great night for our program. I could not ever be happier with a team that I am right now,” said Sutphin.
       Ratcliffe finished with a season high 27 points on six of 13 from the  field and 13 of 16 from the free throw line. Fleenor finished with 22 points on seven of 11 from the field and six of six from the stripe. Fleenor did not miss a shot the second half, going five for five, two of them threes. Akers had six points and Tara Blankenship four points and six rebounds.
     Carroll shot a bit better from the field for the game, hitting 20 of 48 shots, 42%. The Lady Cougars were 17 of 46, 37%, but while Carroll wasn’t bad from the free throw line, making 11 of 20, a tad over 50%, but Pulaski County was chained lightning from the stripe, 24 of 30, 80%, and that clutch shooting sends Pulaski County to the third state championship game in PCHS girls basketball history.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot
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