Brock Netter, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — Waverly’s Paige Carter was a non-factor in the first half, scoring just one point while her team led by two points at halftime.
But after the final buzzer sounded, Carter was the story of the game.
The senior forward torched Jackson’s defense by scoring 22 points in the second half, including a final shot that helped her join the 1,000 career point club as her Tigers took home a 53-38 victory on Friday.
“My nerves definitely got the best of me in the first half. I couldn’t do much of anything,” Carter said. “But coming out of halftime, I knew that I had to just go for it and make something happen. I couldn’t have done it without Zoiee [Smith]. She’s where I get most of my points from.
“This is an incredible accomplishment, one I’ve worked my whole life for, and I couldn’t have done without my teammates or coaches.”
Carter’s milestone was only part of a huge night for Waverly (16-6) as the victory also clinched the program’s first sectional championship since 2000.
“This win is all about the kids. They’re the ones who have put in the time and work for us to be where we are,” Waverly coach John Bonifield said. “This was one of their goals to start the year, and to see them accomplish it is unbelievable. It’s even bigger for our program because now we don’t have to look back on that 2000 team as the last ones to win it. We can put our own number and our players now, along with the ones coming up, can see that we did it.”
Jackson (10-12) jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead following a bucket from Mattie Walburn and a triple by Sydney Hughes. However, Waverly countered with an 11-2 run behind a pair of buckets from Ava Little and Kelli Stewart to take an 11-7 lead after the first quarter.
The ball continued to go through Stewart and she rewarded the Tigers by scoring six of the team’s 11 points in the frame.
Waverly built its lead to 22-17, but Jackson’s Katelyn Webb drilled a shot from distance to close the gap at 22-20 going into halftime.
“We gave up too many second chance opportunities in the first half, but Jackson missed some of those chances to help keep us ahead,” Bonifield said. “Jackson made us run a lot of half-court offense, which we’re capable and have adapted to doing, but that’s not our bread and butter. We like to get out in transition and create off turnovers.”
Jackson tied the game 24-24 in the third. But that’s when Carter began to take off.
It started with a 5-0 run and the floodgates were opened. She finished the quarter with 11 points while Little buried a huge 3-pointer to put the Tigers ahead 40-31 after three.
With a hot hand and a fearless mentality, Carter continued attacking and making baskets as the lead reached double digits. Leading 51-35, Carter pulled up from 18-feet and buried a shot, etching her name in Waverly history with career point No. 999 and 1,000.
“Paige works so hard, and I couldn’t ask for a better player,” Bonifield said. “Her game has evolved so much over the years. She can go right, go left and play in the post despite being undersized. She’s such a relentless competitor and I’m so proud of what she’s accomplished.”
Carter finished the night with game-highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers, followed by 13 points and five rebounds from Stewart.
For Jackson, T.J. Carpenter finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, followed by Hughes with nine points.
Waverly advances to a Division II district semifinal at 7 p.m., Tuesday at No. 2 seeded Vinton County.
“We have to handle their pressure and limit their second chance opportunities,” Bonifield said. “Vinton County will shoot from anywhere on the floor, so we have to guard them 94 feet. They’re a very talented team, but we’ll put in our work and come up with a game plan. It won’t be easy, but nothing is in tournaments.”
Jackson: 7-13-11-7 — 38
Waverly: 11-11-18-13 — 53
Jackson: 15-48 FG, 6-12 FT, 2-11 3pt., 27 rebounds (Carpenter 10), 22 turnovers, 5 assists. Scoring: Carpenter 11, Hughes 9, Walburn 8, Webb 6, Davis 4.
Waverly: 19-40 FG, 13-31 FT, 2-10 3pt., 30 rebounds (Carter 11), 19 turnovers, 9 assists (Smith 7). Scoring: Carter 23, Stewart 13, Little 7, Smith 6, Knight 4.