In the 2020 N.C. 4A Western Regional final, about a year ago, Vance High’s girls basketball team hit another gear and blew out Mallard Creek to reach the state championship game.
Tuesday night at home, Vance did the same thing to Providence in the 2021 regional championship.
The Cougars punched their ticket to a second straight state final with an emphatic 57-41 win over the Panthers.
“It feels good to know that we’ve got a team that can do this,” Vance senior Amhyia Moreland said after the game. “We’re making history at this point, going to back-to-back state championship games. Not many schools do that.”
Vance (11-0) won its 15th straight game dating to last season and became the first Mecklenburg County 4A girls team to qualify for two straight state finals since Barbara Nelson’s Myers Park teams won back-to-back championships in 2014 and ‘15.
West Charlotte’s girls also went to back-to-back championship rounds. The Lions lost in the 2008 final and won in 2009, led by N.C. Associated Press player of the year Christal Caldwell.
Vance, which will play Garner Magnet (17-0) Saturday, qualified for its third state final. The Cougars lost to Fayetteville’s 71st High School 50-47 in 2003. 71st was led by McDonald’s All-American Latoya Pringle, who played at North Carolina before becoming a first round WNBA draft pick in 2008.
Last season, the Cougars were declared co-state champions with Southeast Raleigh after the N.C. High School Athletic Association canceled the state final due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Moreland said not being able to play the 2020 final was tough. She felt the Cougars were the best team in North Carolina and didn’t get to show it.
“We were upset about that,” she said. “Now that we can actually play the game, it’s going to be a good one.”
On Tuesday, Vance’s size and 2-3 zone defense caused problems for Providence (9-1), which didn’t score for 3 1/2 minutes.
Providence got down 8-0 but fought back to within 20-17. But Vance finished the first half with a 7-0 run and started the second with another spurt. The lead quickly went to more than 20 points in a game that looked a lot like Vance’s 2020 semifinal win over Mallard Creek, when the Cougars beat Mallard Creek 72-42 in Hickory.
Providence, which rallied from 15 points down to beat South Caldwell in the state quarterfinal, kept fighting, led by senior Nyla McGill, but Vance never let the Panthers get within single digits after it got the big lead.
Ultimately, though, Vance was just too big inside. And that’s where the ball — and the focus — kept going.
“If you can’t stop us,” Moreland said, “we’re not going to stop doing what we do. That was our game plan going in.”
Garner 73, Ashley 67 ... The Trojans advanced to the girls’ state finals for the first time in 45 years, rallying in the closing minutes. Garner led 63-51 midway in the final period, but Ashley senior Saniya Rivers, a South Carolina commit, scored eight straight points for Ashley. Lexi Hinson’s 3-pointer brought Ashley within 65-64, but Garner’s Jerni Kiaku hit a pair of three throws, and the Trojans hung on.
Kiaku finished with 36 points, 24 of those in the second half. Rivers, who picked up her fourth personal foul in the final quarter, had 37 points, 18 rebounds and four assists in her high school finale.
Jesse Carson 62, Hickory 45 ... The Cougars are headed to the state finals for the first time in girls’ basketball, as they torched Hickory with 3-point shooting in the first half. Ellie Wilhelm hit four 3-pointers in the half and scored 14 of her 17 points before intermission.
Jesse Carson led 41-25 at halftime and kept the lead in the second half. Carleigh Perry added 15 points for the victors.
Shelby 49, West Stokes 44 ... The Golden Lions advanced to the state finals for the first time in girls’ basketball, as Maraja Pass (12 points), Ally Hollifield (11) and Kate Hollifield (10) scored in double figures.
Princeton 82, Pinetown Northside 67 ... The Bulldogs gained a state title berth in girls’ basketball for the first time since 1986, as senior Meredith Wooten scored 30 points in her final home game. It will be the fourth state finals appearance alltime for Princeton in girls’ basketball.