Gunter moves one step away from state

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Gunter's Sarah Putnicki blocks Chapel Hill's Kinly Posey during a Class 3A Region II semifinal contest at Greenville.

GREENVILLE — When it came to experience, the Lady Tigers had a big disadvantage. And the place where that can immediately be on display is the first quarter.

It is in that stretch where games this deep in the playoffs are won or lost. The veteran side gains the upper hand due to tentative play, silly fouls or nerves which haven’t been quelled and the deficit becomes too big to overcome.

There have been no such problems for Gunter as it marches through the bracket. And the way the Lady Tigers took control against Mount Pleasant Chapel Hill, the 2019 state champs, from the jump — considering the circumstances — might have been their best eight-minute stretch of the season.

“I knew the way they play defense we saw on film we should be able to have success,” Gunter head coach Katie Stinton said. “I thought even when we slowed it down the kids were really patient.”

No matter what style the Lady Tigers have been playing, they have been clicking on all cylinders.

Their latest victim in their best season in two decades didn’t have much of a chance after the first quarter as Gunter cruised past Chapel Hill, 65-41, in a Class 3A Region II semifinal match-up.

The Lady Tigers (26-5) will face Ponder, which beat defending region champ Winnsboro, in the region final at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Denton Braswell. The two met in December with Ponder earning a 61-44 victory.

“We know we’re going to have our hands full,” Stinton said.

This is the first region final for Gunter since 2002 and it will trying to get to state for the first time since 1997.

“I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed by it. They just want to another game to play,” Stinton said. “We’re just so grateful for the opportunity to play in the region final.”

Alyssa Tarpley made five three-pointers and finished with 23 points and five assists, Taylor Boddie scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half and Sarah Putnicki and Blakely Esnard each totaled 12 points for Gunter, which has won 14 straight.

The Lady Tigers did have one streak snapped. When Katie Hart hit a three with 42 seconds left, it marked the first time in 12 games Gunter allowed more than 40 points.

Mackenzie Espinosa had 15 points and seven rebounds, Hart added 13 points and Kinly Posey chipped in seven points for Mount Pleasant Chapel Hill (24-5), which was in the region semis for the fourth straight season.

The Lady Devils were in deep trouble during a first quarter where they could not slow down Gunter. The Lady Tigers were up 9-2 in the first three minutes with Tarpley scoring seven of those points.

Espinosa followed with a three-pointer but that was as close as Chapel Hill would be the rest of the game. Esnard answered with a three and Tarpley hit another with 3:18 to go in the frame as the lead hit double-digits (17-7) for the first time.

Putnicki had three baskets and Tarpley drilled another three as Gunter held a 26-9 advantage. Of the eight buckets in the quarter, the Lady Tigers assisted on eight of them.

The ball movement was superb and Gunter didn’t have a turnover in the opening 10 minutes. It almost went the third quarter without one as well, but Tarpley was called for a dubious travel on a three-pointer for the only turnover in the stanza.

“It was a great team effort,” Stinton said.

The Lady Tigers cooled off considerably in the second quarter, in part due to a handful of turnovers, but their defense didn’t take a break. In fact, it was even better than the first quarter.

After Espinosa opened the frame with a layup, the Lady Devils went four minutes without a bucket and ended the quarter with just seven points.

“We get stops,” Stinton said. “I just want to get stops.”

Gunter also finished with only two baskets in the frame, including a Tarpley three. When Putnicki made a free throw in the final minute before the break, it gave the Lady Tigers a 32-16 advantage.

Chapel Hill had a third straight quarter in single digits and didn’t hit a shot in the final 5:15 of the third. Gunter went on a 10-0 run in the middle of the frame to widen the gap to 20 points for the first time and the Lady Tigers went into the fourth up 47-24.

Tarpley and Esnard had three-pointers early in the final quarter and Esnard then put Gunter up 30 with 4:20 left in the game as the Lady Tigers had doubled up the Lady Devils at 60-30. Chapel Hill almost scored as many points in the fourth (17) as it did through three quarters.

Region semifinals

Class 3A Region II

Gunter                         65

Chapel Hill                   41