ROSE RIDGE, Va. – Gate City basketball player Jaydyn Carrico follows a unique routine in practice.
“When I’m shooting free throws, my teammates will scream at me and give me a hard time. I just try to block that out and focus on the rim,” Carrico said.
The concentration tactic came in handy Tuesday.
With GC clinging to a two-point advantage and 17 seconds remaining, Carrico sank two free throws to lift the Blue Devils to a 55-54 win over the Ridgeview Wolfpack in another Mountain 7 District girls basketball showdown.
What was the mindset for Carrico?
“I just tried to stay calm and do my job like I do in practice,” Carrico said.
Last season, the 5-foot-8 Carrico served as a sparkplug off the bench. Along with clever passing and hustle, Carrico averages nine points per game and 80% free throw shooting as a starter in the backcourt.
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“I watched and learned from our seniors as a freshman,” Carrico said. “Now, I try to help my teammates by scoring, passing and just playing hard.”
Gate City coach Kelly Houseright relies on Carrico for several roles.
“Jaydyn was a sparkplug off the bench last season, and we’re expecting more out of her this season,” Houseright said. “Jayden is athletic and she can do some things on offense. But the main thing we need from Jaydyn is her energy. When she’s going, we’re going.”
GC defeated Ridgeview 61-35 earlier this season as three players reached double figures.
On Tuesday, GC took a 12-4 lead at the two-minute mark of the first quarter when senior Levi Ervin hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
But there was nothing easy about this rematch.
The Blue Devils held a 29-19 margin at halftime behind 10 points from Carrico, but three GC regulars were saddled with two fouls. With steady defense and crisp ball movement, GC began the second half with a seven-point run.
Following a timeout by Ridgeview coach Donnie Frazier, the Wolfpack chopped the deficit to 41-34 with 1:34 remaining in the third quarter and outscored GC 18-9 in the final quarter.
Fans were on their feet with 3:05 left in the game when Ridgeview pulled within 51-46 on an acrobatic drive from junior Braelyn Strouth.
Two free throws from Bays put GC up 53-46 with 1:08 left, but the fearless Strouth split the heart of the defense for another layup followed by a free throw.
The GC lead was then cut to 53-51 with 30 seconds remaining. After the clutch free throws from Carrico, senior Maggie Grant canned a 3-pointer from the corner but Ridgeview had no timeouts to stop the clock.
“We fought back, hit some shots and played hard until the buzzer,” Ridgeview coach Donnie Frazier said. “I’m proud of the effort.”
The new-look Ridgeview roster includes just one senior and six sophomores. Most of those young players guided the Wolfpack to the Mountain 7 junior varsity title last season.
Strouth led the Wolfpack Tuesday with 12 points, while junior Caiti Hill added 10.
“Braelyn made a lot of plays,” Frazier said. “She’s an athletic kid who can shoot and get to the basket. We’re young, but we’ve got some good pieces. We’ve just got to keep battling.”
Ridgeview (12-6, 5-3) made early waves this season by ending the win streaks of Honaker at 26 games and Wise County Central at 21.
“We knew Ridgeview wasn’t going to lie down tonight,” Houseright said. “You’re fortunate to get a road win in this district. We did some really good stuff throughout the game, but we started fouling too much and let a good Ridgeview team make a run at us. We just had to fight and scrap at the end.”
Senior shooter Lexi Ervin collected 13 points for GC, while senior guard Adyson Gibson added 12 in the win. The victory coupled with Wise County Central's loss to Union gave the Blue Devils sole possession of first place in the district.
GC (13-3, 7-1) features three double figure scorers on the season, with Carrico averaging nine points per game in addition to her free throw prowess.
“Those free throws were huge tonight,” Houseright said.
Ridgeview 70, Gate City 69
The Wolfpack (13-4, 6-2) connected on 11 3-pointers en route to the comeback win.
Junior guard Terran Owens hit the biggest shot, connecting on a three with .02 left on the clock.
How did Owens pull off his heroic heave which sent Ridgeview fans jumping for joy?
“I can’t really describe it,” Owens said. “The ball came to me. I saw that I was open and I just took the shot. I felt like it was going in when the ball left my hands.”
GC (7-9, 6-2) led most of the game, including a 42-34 advantage at the half and a 59-53 margin entering the fourth quarter.
Ridgeview senior Cannon Hill, who reached the 1,000-career point mark last week, finally gave the Wolfpack a 66-65 lead with 1:30 left in the game.
With 17 seconds left, Cam Henderson put GC up 69-67 with a three from the corner.
The set the stage for Owens.
Ridgeview senior guard Chantz Robinette entered the night averaging 23 points, with two games where he scored at least 41 points. Robinette finished with 26 points and seven 3-pointers Tuesday.
Hill (18 points) and Owens (14) also reached double figures for Ridgeview. GC was led by Gunner Garrett with 31 points and Eli McMurray with 16.
The Gate City loss gave Abingdon sole possession of the first place in the Mountain 7.
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