After going into the fourth quarter up by eight points, Lovejoy battled back to give the Lady Rams a late scare, but Newton took its final lead in the closing seconds to advance to the region championship game with the 65-62 win.
Newton had the height advantage at guard, but Lovejoy’s Devona Stell, listed at 6-foot-2, dwarfed the entire Newton team and proved to be a problem for the Lady Rams.
With Newton’s height advantage at guard and higher number of ball handlers, the full court trap Newton ran stifled the Lady Wildcats on offense. Newton forced consecutive turnovers and jumped out to a 9-2 lead with a triple off the glass by Imani Broadnax on a pass from Kayla Smith.
Newton hit a lull on offense and a three-pointer from Briona Andrews made it 9-7. Nidajzha Tennyson gave the team a big defensive boost, especially down the stretch. She hit a triple in the first to give the Lady Rams a 14-9 lead but Lovejoy answered down low with Stell.
Despite strong defense to start the game, it was all tied up at the end of the first with a buzzer beater three from LaQuay Marshall. It seemed Lovejoy had figured out Newton’s trap defense and their half court zone with more crisp passes and Newton had no answer for Stell.
Lovejoy eventually took a 17-16 lead, but Kayla Smith and Kayana Henderson put the Lady Rams back up 20-17.
Throught the second quarter there were frequent questionable calls by the refs in favor of Lovejoy that upset the crowd and the coaches.
A bad rotation by Newton got Andrews an open three. She drained it to tie the game at 25 late in the second. And the score remained tied at 25 heading into halftime.
Alexcia Chatman caught fire in the third quarter. She dropped two treys giving Newton a 34-28 lead, then knocked down another three to spark the offense. After Erianna Card’s putback, Newton led 39-30.
Chatman hit her fourth trey of the period with the defense all over her, but it didn't matter and Newton was up 44-32. Chatman totaled 14 points in the third.
The Lady Wildcats forced their way back into the game after trailing by as much as 15 in the third. Amber Thornton’s and-one made it a 10-point game. Lady Rams were up 49-41 going into the fourth.
The Lady Rams were in control, until they weren’t. Lovejoy got within five but Kayla Smith got in the paint and hit a layup to go back up by seven. The Lady Wildcats started knocking down big shots. Symone Williams hit a three as Newton struggled in the paint against Stell’s length and rim-protecting defense. Another triple got Lovejoy within three.
Lovejoy was able to take a 55-54 lead, but then Stell sat with her team up by one. With Stell sitting, Jurnee Smith got inside the paint and converted an and-one to give Newton a 57-55 lead.
Broadnax’s jumper provided a bigger cushion at 59-55. Thornton’s bucket got Lovejoy within two. After a Lady Wildcat fastbreak, Kayla Smith blocked a shot at the rim and Lovejoy missed the three after getting the rebound.
Broadnax got to the line going 1-2 with Newton leading 60-57. Lovejoy timeout, 1:05 left.On the following possession Andrews banked a shot in after Kayla Smith initially blocked her three-point attempt. Lovejoy timeout Newton up 60-59, 52.4 seconds left.
Broadnax went to the line and hit 1-2 again keeping Newton with a two-point lead. Marshall got open in the corner and hit a three for a 62-61 lead.
The Lady Rams responded quickly, as Broadnax drove and got fouled with Lovejoy in the bonus, 16.2 seconds left. This time Broadnax hit both and Newton went up 63-62.
On the defensive end, Newton contested Lovejoy’s shot, Card got the rebound and Tennyson got the ball up court and was fouled hard. Tennyson went to the line for two shots and the ball. She hit the first and missed the second. Broadnax would get fouled and went 1-2 with 4.1 seconds left with the Lady Rams up 65-62. Newton stood strong defensively and took home the win.
Chatman led Newton with 20 points and Broadnax added 15. Lovejoy was led by Marshall, who scored 20, plus Andrews’ 14.