On a night when its two leading scorers were held under double digits and well under their scoring average, the Butler girls basketball team found enough resolve to survive a sloppy first half and a late Ardrey Kell charge to beat the Knights 54-48 and advance to the round of 8 in the NCHSAA 4A playoffs on March 2.
The Bulldogs won their 12th straight game and improved to 27-2 on the season despite stars Michala Funderburk and Michaela Lane being the Knights’ main focal point defensively.
Funderburk scored nine points, well below her team-best 15.4 points per game. Lane had a season-low two points — a far cry from her 13.8 points and 12.7 rebounds average.
Even so, the Bulldogs started the game on a 6-0 spurt. The Knights weren’t intimidated and used a 17-6 run of their own to take the 17-12 early lead. The teams would play even ball the rest of the half, with Butler taking an eventual 23-21 lead into the locker room.
But a 16-5 third quarter spurt and the play of Butler’s other starters allowed them to advance.
“(Hailey) Nance came off the bench and actually led us in scoring,” Butler coach Mark Sanders said. “Funderburk got in foul trouble early and they were obviously game-planning to stop Lane. We took advantage of some matchups on the other side. We got Hailey going and once Dotson decided to go and shoot the ball, she did well. We’re trying to get her to shoot the ball more because she shoots as well as Funderburk, she just don’t.
“Once she decided to shoot, she got hot there and hit three 3’s in a row. They were deep, too, and that put us up 13 and gave us some confidence.”
But the Knights made a run to get the lead close again.
“We turned the ball over and their playmakers (Michele) Ojo and Evan Miller made some plays,” Sanders said. “But we’ve been working on finishing and that was probably the best last two minutes of the season. We made some free throws down the stretch, which is something we haven’t been doing.”
Nance led the way with a team-high 15 points, nine rebounds and four steals. Dotson scored 12, Payton Sutton added 11 and Michaela Dixon had five points and six rebounds to help the Bulldogs advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since Cierra Burdick led the 2010-11 team to the state title game.
Sanders said due to the foul trouble, Lane, who usually operates in the paint but can also handle the ball, was his next best option at the point guard spot. That may have cut back on her scoring, but it helped win the game down the stretch.
On March 5, the Bulldogs will play Ragsdale with the winner advancing to the regional finals on March 9 in sites around the state.
Sanders said the key will be keeping the same focus and mindset that has led to one of the best starts in school history.
“We can’t get to hyped and we have to do what we do,” Sanders said. “We can’t get caught up in playing to their pace because they like to get out and run. We have to do all of the little things — we have to box out, we have to rebound and we have to get back in transition, value the basketball and run our stuff.”