It has taken 38 years, but Gastonia’s Ashbrook High is returning to a state championship basketball game.
The Green Wave survived a major challenge from rival Crest, a nearby school from Boiling Springs, in Saturday’s N.C. 3A Western Regional championship game, winning 47-46.
After the lead changed five times in six minutes during the fourth quarter, Ashbrook senior Austin Mitchell grabbed a loose ball near his basket. He took one step and dunked the game’s final lead change with 20.1 seconds left at Lawrence Joel Coliseum.
Ashbrook prevailed, but not before the Green Wave missed two chances at the free-throw line to possibly put away the game, and Crest’s Jaylon Wray, an all-tournament pick, lined up a potential game-winning 3-point shot from 22 feet. Wray’s shot was on line but about a foot short.
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“I’m very proud of the way we finished the game,” Ashbrook coach Chad Duncan said. “I know we didn’t quite make foul shots like we wanted to, but we played defense, and that’s been our hallmark all year.”
Duncan will lead Ashbrook (23-3) to next Saturday’s state final against Fayetteville Sanford in Chapel Hill. It is the second time Ashbrook has reached the championship round. In 1977, a 6-foot-9 forward named James Worthy led the Green Wave in the championship game against Gaston County rival Hunter Huss.
Huss, led by a future NBA player named Sleepy Floyd, won 60-59. Worthy went onto to lead North Carolina to the 1982 NCAA championship and win three NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.
This current Ashbrook team also has a 6-9 forward as its star, and junior Isaiah Whaley was named regional tournament MVP Saturday after scoring 14 points and blocking 11 shots. He was a big part of that defensive effort down the stretch as Ashbrook limited Crest to two field goals in the final quarter.
But the hero Saturday was Mitchell, a 6-6 senior who has made a habit of making big plays this season. He saved his biggest for last.
“The scramble that happened (before Mitchell’s dunk) was one of those things where they’re a bunch of quick athletes and we’re a bunch of quick athletes,” Duncan said. “We were just fortunate the ball ended up in our hands. But, you know, as hard as these boys have worked all year, I can only hope that would happen for the Ashbrook boys.”
NCHSAA 3A Western Regional All-Tournament Team
Jerick Hayes, Crest; Jaylon Wray, Crest; Z’Andre Givens, Ashbrook; Austin Mitchell, Ashbrook; Jeff Glenn, Ashbrook; Isaiah Whaley, Ashbrook (MVP)