Freedom girls 80, Watauga 44

Freedom's Blaikley Crooks (right) vies for a loose ball on Tuesday vs. Watauga. The Lady Patriots won, 80-44, to seal a fifth straight NWC 3A/4A regular-season title. Crooks has started for the last four of those teams.

The Freedom girls basketball team didn’t have to wait until Tuesday night to clinch outright its fifth straight Northwestern 3A/4A Conference championship.

Instead, it happened Monday evening while the Lady Patriots were home eating dinner or watching TV when Hickory traveled to Boone for a second-place battle with Watauga and won.

That put both the Lady Pioneers and the Lady Red Tornadoes three games back of Freedom in the loss column with just two games left for Hickory and one for Watauga.

The Lady Patriots (22-0, 11-0 NWC) put an exclamation on the clinch Tuesday evening in Morganton when that last game for WHS became an 80-44 dismantling at the hands of the hosts, who added a 23rd league title to their storied program and moved to 22-0 overall for just the second time ever.

The first time came with Freedom’s most recent state title in 2015-16 under 16th-season head coach Amber Reddick, who also won state championships with the program as an assistant coach and a player and understands as well as anyone what it means to don the FHS red.

“It’s very special, and it’s a testament to these girls and everything they’ve done and worked hard on,” Reddick said. “You have to have good players and good people, too, to be able to do that. I’m just real proud of them. Blaikley (Crooks) and the other seniors that were here just getting to be a part of four straight is pretty awesome.”

Crooks co-led the team with 15 points Tuesday night, including a 3-pointer late in the first half that pushed the FHS lead past 20. She added five rebounds, four steals and three assists.

“(It’s) just hard work from everybody from top to bottom,” Crooks said. “Everybody has to work hard every day. It just shows with our results.”

Crooks’ trey capped a 17-2 run in the second frame that put the game well out of reach, but another 3-pointer from Christena Rhone sparked it. She hit two more baskets later in the streak, taking a steal-and-assist from Jayda Glass on the first and a dish from Josie Hise on the other to finish with 15 points herself.

“We just came out strong and good mentally,” Rhone said. “We worked as a team. For me, I’m mostly a team player. So, if I get my other players rolling, that’s going to warm me up and get me rolling.”

Junior post Adair Garrison also had a 3 in the big rally and finished with 14 points. Josie Hise added 13 (all in the second half), Danisha Hemphill scored 11, Stevee McGee put up eight and Glass finished with four.


Justin Epley can be reached at or 828-432-8943.

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