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By Marlana Smith
Two decades in the making.
For perspective, George W. Bush had been president of the United States for one month the last time it happened.
The top-seeded North Shelby Lady Raiders (17-5) powered through No. 3 seed Marion County 62-38 on Friday, Feb. 26 for their first district title since 2001.
North Shelby head coach Landon Daniel’s first words were, “I am very, very proud.”
It was Daniel’s first district championship since starting his coaching career in 2011. Daniel graduated from North Shelby in 2007.
“It’s big for me. It’s one that I will remember forever, and I am so glad it’s here,” said Daniel.
“This puts Lady Raiders basketball back on the map. We put one more number up on the wall and I think it’s a good start for our program.”
Marion County scored first with a 3-pointer and had an 8-5 lead with under three minutes left in the period. North Shelby’s Natalie Thrasher did what she is known for, draining 3s, and tied the game.
Ava Williams and Lilly Cook scored field goals giving the Lady Raiders a 12-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.
For the game, Williams led NS with 13 points. Ceairra Kirby tallied 12 and Caroline Linberger and Thrasher contributed 10.
North Shelby out-rebounded the Lady Mustangs 46-27.
Williams got 14 of those.
“The girls just stuck with it. They knew in their head, we had the confidence, and we knew we were the better team,” Daniel said.
North Shelby senior Lilly Cook has played for the Lady Raiders for four years. She said her first two seasons were rough.
“Last year we noticed the talent with the freshmen and that just gave us the encouragement to set our goals high this year,” Cook continued. “The fact that it could all be over was a really big motivator. It’s just fun that this is my last year and this is how it is going.”
Kirby put in a shot past the 3-pointer arc 49 seconds into the second period. Hannah Wahl was good for a bucket and Cook went two-for-two from the free-throw line. NS maintained a 19-12 lead.
Thrasher hit a 3-pointer and Lalaine Treasure was good for a basket. Thrasher drained another 3 at the buzzer giving the Lady Raiders 29-17 advantage.
“You could name every single kid and one thing that they did. Marissa McEwen coming off the bench as a freshman for 30 seconds and she grabs a board. (Seniors) Lalaine Treasure and Hannah Wahl played really well tonight. They got some big buckets for us,” said Daniel.
Treasure said this year was really exciting for the team.
“Ever since my freshman year, we have really built up. Freshman year, we barely had a ball-handler. We could barely get the ball past half court,” Treasure explained. “Moving on to my senior year and having it like this where we are winning a district championship feels crazy, it doesn’t feel real. I am proud of us for getting this far.”
Wahl expressed how big this win was for her, personally.
“It’s been one of my goals since I was a freshman. Now, we did it,” Wahl said. “It’s a big thing, what we did tonight. What came into play was our energy, effort and enthusiasm.”
Entering the second half, North Shelby added seven points within two minutes. Williams claimed four and Linberger three. At the end of the third period, the Lady Raiders led 46-25.
During the fourth period, things continued to work for NS as it scored 22 points.
“I am so proud of each and every one of them for sticking with it and executing and achieving their goal,” Daniel said.
North Shelby will travel to Meadville (23-3) Wednesday, March 3 in the Class 1 sectionals. Tipoff is 6 p.m.
Daniel said they play a lot like South Shelby.
“They have two girls that are excellent shooters, but the whole team has the green light and they shoot a lot of 3s,” said Daniel.
“Meadville also likes to use transition and speed the game up. If we can control the paint on both sides of the floor by getting to the rim on offense and controlling the glass on defense, we should be in pretty good shape.
“We will have to close out to the shooters, but also be able to defend them off the drive, as well,” Daniel concluded.