The Princeton girls’ basketball team did everything they could to win the program’s first state title.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Murphy had other plans.
Murphy defeated Princeton 76-34 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A state championship game on Saturday afternoon at Wheatmore High School in Trinity.
It was the final basketball game for seniors Meredith Wooten and Le’Onna Nelson. It was also the final game for Princeton head coach Paula Wooten, who is retiring after coaching at Princeton for 35 years.
“It’s a good way to go out. The only way it could’ve been better is if we would have won. It’s something I’ll always have,” Paula Wooten said.
“To say this my last year and that I went to the state championship is a great thing to say and a great thing to have under my belt,” Nelson added. “Meredith and I have been playing together since rec ball, so our connection is great.”
A basket from Nelson and a three-pointer from Anna Taylor helped the Bulldogs take an early 5-0 lead, but it did not take long for Murphy to respond.
Murphy went on a 19-6 run to take a 19-11 lead, but Taylor hit another three-pointer to cut Murphy’s lead down 19-14 at the end of the first quarter.
“I just told them not to give up,” Wooten said. “When you’re facing a big team like that, and you give up, it’s going to be worse than it was.
“We kept fighting and fighting, and I was proud of them.”
However, in the second quarter, Murphy put its foot on the gas pedal.
Murphy exploited its height advantage inside, crashed the offensive boards, denied the Bulldogs’ transition game. Murphy outscored the Bulldogs 26-9 in the second quarter, and a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Torin Rogers gave Murphy a 45-23 lead at halftime.
Things did not get much better for Princeton in the second half.
Murphy outscored the Bulldogs 23-4 in the third quarter and led 68-27 at the end of the third quarter.
With the running clock going in the fourth quarter, Murphy took its foot off the gas pedal and kept the Bulldogs from winning their first state title.
“We never got into synch, and we never got into our groove,” Wooten said. “We were just forcing too much and trying to do things do fast.”
After the game, Taylor was named the East’s Most Outstanding Player, Murphy’s Sarah Pullium was named the West MOP, and Rogers was named MVP.of the state title game.
With the disappointment still fresh, Wooten acknowledged that being a student-athlete is not always about wins and losses.
“I’m super proud of the girls, and this game doesn’t define our season, but we did run into a very, very good team,” Wooten said. “These kids have worked hard all year. We worked through a lot of adversity this year.
“I’m super proud of them. This game does not define who they are. They’re all winners.”