Fourth time is the charm for Lady Raiders; back in the Final Four

Published 3:44 pm Monday, February 21, 2022

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The Pungo Christian Academy Lady Raiders picked the right time to avenge three regular-season defeats with a 39-38 victory at Lawrence Academy in the third round of the NCISAA 1A state basketball playoffs.

PCA (18-6) trailed 20-9 at halftime, then fell behind by 15, before rallying for an eight point deficit after three quarters.

With Raider point guard Abbey Cutler in foul trouble, the Warriors trailed by 13 with under six minutes left.

She returned to the court at the that point and was in the middle of the Raiders full-court press that forced several turnovers to cut the deficit to seven with three minutes left.

Conference player of the year Reagan Stoop hit a three-pointer and Cutler nailed a floater in the lane to trail by two with under two minutes left.

Cutler fouled out on the next possession, but the Raiders still trailed by two with under 30 seconds left.

After a time-out, Raiders sophomore guard Ginny Pugh dribbled around the perimeter looking to get the ball into Stoop when she realized no one was guarding her. She pulled up for three as both crowds grew silent as the ball traveled through the air. The Raider faithful erupted as her shot found the bottom of the net for a 39-38 lead with 20 seconds to play.

The Warriors called timeout with under 20 ticks left, but missed the potential game-winner with five seconds left.

“I’m really proud of how well we battled back to win,” first-year coach Kelly Rouse said. “We’ve really worked on not getting down on ourselves and staying positive when we are behind and it paid off tonight.”

The Warriors held the lead for 31 minutes and 40 seconds, but it was Pugh’s decisive three that made the difference. Stoop lead PCA with 18 points, Pugh added seven and Kailey Keech added five.

Pungo is back in the NCISAA Final Four for the second consecutive season, after losing three key seniors from last year’s squad and winning 16 of their last 18 games with the only losses to Lawrence. It is the first time in PCA girls basketball history that they have made consecutive Final Four appearances.

The Raiders faced top-seeded Grace Christian of Sanford after our print deadline. They are 26-1 and are the #8 team (public or private) in the state according to MaxPreps and feature ESPN’s #5 ranked sophomore in the nation in Sarah Strong. The 6’2” forward leads her team in every statistical category, averages 25 points and 17.6 rebounds per game and has game highs of 45 points and 40 rebounds.

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The sixth-seeded Terra Ceia girls ended their season 16-7 after a 43-24 loss at #3 Wilson Greenfield.