The grudge match was set. Morganton Freedom (17-6; 9-2) and Alexander Central (21-4; 8-2) were playing for the Northwestern 3A/4A conference tournament championship. Freedom, coached by Clint Zimmerman, and Alexander Central, coached by Ed Willis, split during the regular season. Freedom lost to Alexander Central 59-42 back in January, but returned the favor by winning 80-62 just last week. Freedom came into the contest with the No. 1 seed and will advance to the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs, while Alexander Central came into the game with the No. 2 seed and will advance to the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs.
The game was nip and tuck from start to end. There were multiple lead changes and the game wasn’t decided until the final seconds. With 2.3 seconds remaining, trailing 52-51, Freedom had possession directly underneath it’s own basket. Unfortunately, a line violation turned the ball back over to Alexander Central and they were able to get the ball inbounds as the final seconds ran out to capture the Northwestern 3A/4A conference tournament championship. Leading the way for Alexander Central was tournament MVP, 6’2 senior Grayson Presnell. Presnell finished with 13 points, collected five rebounds, dished out four assists, and had four crucial steals. For Freedom, 6’1 super frosh Amore Connelly was sensational in defeat. Connelly finished with 27 points, collected five rebounds, and dished out six assists, and had one steal and two blocked shots on the defensive side of the court.
Alexander Central controlled the boards and outrebounded Freedom 24-15. In addition, Freedom committed 17 turnovers to Alexander Central’s 12. However, foul trouble plagued Freedom while Alexander shot 12-21 from the free throw line compared to Alexander Central’s 5-6. Now, let’s take a closer look at the game’s standout players.
6’1 Frosh Amore Connelly (Freedom)
It was our first viewing of the athletic point guard and to put it mildly, we came away totally impressed. We’re talking about a very poised and mature player that has elite level athleticism with a matching skill set. Connelly finished with a game high 27 points going an impressive 9-12 from the floor, 4-5 from the 3-point line, and 5-6 from the free throw line and showcased his passing ability by dishing out a game high six assists. Look for Connelly to make a quantum leap when we update our North Carolina 2025 rankings, he is simply that good!
6’2 Senior Philly Harris (Freedom)
It was a very efficient game for Harris. He went 4-5 from the floor, 3-4 from the 3-point line, while dishing out three assists and getting one block and steal defensively. That being said, we were more impressed with his ability to make one hustle play after another and the drive on the floor for a loose ball early in the game simply showed how important this game was to the senior guard. Harris finished with 11 points and countless hustle plays.
6’0 Senior Evan Presnell (Alexander Central)
While Presnell struggled to find his range in the first half, he more than made up for it with hustle plays and playing with a nonstop motor. Presnell finished with 13 points, but collected five rebounds, dished out four assists along with four steals. It was a hard fought game, but Presnell stepped up big when it mattered most. His play in the fourth quarter was instrumental in securing the 52-51 hard fought conference tournament championship and was name the Northwestern 3A/4A conference tournament MVP.
6’4 Junior Avery Cook (Alexander Central)
It was a solid all-around game for Avery Cook. He finished with 14 points, going an efficient 4-9 from the floor, 2-3 from the 3-point line and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line. Throw in three rebounds, three assists and two steals and you have a very workmanlike game. In addition, Cook was named to the All Conference Tournament Team
6’4 Senior Dusty Sigmon (Alexander Central)
Sigmon went 6-8 from the floor for his 12 points. He picked his spots on the offensive end of the court and played extremely well within the framework of the offense.