MATTHEWS – The Butler girls basketball team had spent much of its dream season bullying opponents early and wearing them down late, but for a crucial eight-minute stretch, it was the Bulldogs who couldn’t find their toughness.
They fell 57-39 in the NCHSAA 4A Final Four to West Forsyth on March 9.
Butler, who drops to 28-3 on the season, had averaged over 65 points per game coming in, but at times, couldn’t even get into their own offensive sets.
“They were playing more physical than we were,” Butler coach Mark Sanders said. “They were a whole lot more aggressive and more physical.”
Butler trailed 13-9 late in the first quarter when everything went wrong.
“They sort of took away my (strength),” said junior point guard Payton Sutton. “They took away our shooters, they were face-guarding and I couldn’t get it to our shooters. (Michaela Lane) stepped up, but it was a little hard to get her the ball to finish.”
In the first half, the Bulldogs made just 4-of-15 shots and committed nine turnovers.
West Forsyth got three 3-pointers from Destiny Griffin and senior guard Callie Scheier dazzled her way to 10 first half points.
Behind their strong play, West Forsyth went on an 18-2 run and opened a four-point lead into a 31-11 halftime lead.
“They only scored 11 points in the second quarter, but we didn’t score any,” Sanders said. “We got some shots, but we took some rushed shots. You can’t turn the ball over against a good team – bad shots and turnovers came back to bite us tonight.
“To me, we played tentative and they played aggressive. We had some opportunities to get some layups, but they ended up being turnovers because instead of catching the ball with two hands, the ball was hitting off their hands and going out of bounds.”
The Bulldogs showed some flashes of themselves in the second half and outscored West Forsyth 28-26, but the damage had already been done.
Scheier scored a game-high 23 points. Griffin added 16 points and nine rebounds.
“(Scheier) presented some challenges,” Sanders said. “She might be better than advertised. She’s strong with the ball and we couldn’t take it away from her, she finished and she found open people. When she was trapped, she’d find the open person.
“But (Griffin) really got going and they rolled it out. We didn’t do a good job of closing out on her at all.”
At halftime, Sanders said he specifically challenged Lane, the star post who averaged over 13 points and 12 rebounds per game this season.
After going 1-for-3 and scoring just two points in the first half, Lane took over inside at times and finished with a team-high 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Michaela Dixon scored six points, and Hailey Nance added five points in the loss.
Butler will lose both of those seniors – along with reserve Renee Kennedy – as senior rotation players, but they will return four starters in Lane, leading scorer Michala Funderburk, Sutton and shooting guard Ashlynn Dotson.
That’s a formidable foursome, and along with reserve Noura Aboutaleb, will make the Bulldogs at least the favorites to repeat as Southwestern 4A champions. But to Sanders, the loss will only fuel what they have in store for next year.
“I told Michaela Funderburk she needs to go back in the lab because we’ll be back next year,” he vowed. “We have basically five starters coming back because we rotate some, but we have five juniors coming back and a couple of sophomores. We’ll be back. This right here just makes us hungry. The girls I have are going to come back and work harder, and they won’t have this taste in their mouths next year.”