“We were playing with nerves, and I told them ‘Just go out there and play and good things will happen,’” Deerman said.
The coach’s words rang true.
Piedmont settled down and went on a 13-4 run to begin the third quarter. The Lady Bulldogs eventually tied the game on two occasions in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Broncos managed to hold on and buck Piedmont, 41-34.
Holly Pond (27-5) advances to Saturday’s regional final against No. 8 Ashville (28-3), a 69-50 winner over No. 4 Pisgah in the other Class 3A girls regional semifinal on Thursday.
Piedmont’s season comes to a close at 26-7.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” Deerman said. “We got off to a really slow start. We had several turnovers. We dug ourselves a hole and could never get out of it.
“We made a run in the third quarter and tied it up, but we kind of ran out of gas there at the end. They got some second shots and we started having to foul them. We still had a chance, but turnovers killed us early and then right there late.”
As Deerman said, turnovers hurt Piedmont. They committed 16 by halftime, but only had three more the rest of the game.
Also working against the Lady Bulldogs was Holly Pond’s outside shooting early. The Lady Broncos sank five 3-pointers in the first half, leading to Piedmont’s 23-12 halftime deficit.
But after halftime, the Lady Bulldogs came alive.
“When we came out of halftime, I told them ‘Look, we’re only down by 11. That’s not anything to us. We’ve been on really long runs before,’” senior forward Sarah Garner said to her teammates. “We started making steals. We started getting it to the post. Our press was really bothering them. They couldn’t get anything over us.”
Piedmont outscored Holly Pond 15-7 in the third, cutting its once 11-point deficit to three at 30-27.
Garner, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and three steals, tied the game at 32 with 6:44 left in the fourth with a jumper inside the paint.
After a pair of free throws by Holly Pond’s Taylor Terry put the Lady Broncos back up by two with 4:09 remaining, Piedmont senior center BreAnna Thompson tied the game again at 34 on a jumper with 2:43 left in the contest.
A layup by the Lady Broncos’ Natasha Holcombe pushed Holly Pond back out in front 36-34 with 1:47 left in the game. Piedmont came back down the floor and looked to take the lead on a 3-pointer by Caitlyn Coogler, but her shot clanked off the rim and the ball fell into Holcombe’s hands.
Terry stretched Holly Pond’s lead to 38-34 on a jumper with 1:16 to go. The Lady Broncos connected on 3-of-6 free throws in the game’s final 30 seconds to escape with the win.
“It was an incredible game,” Holly Pond coach Scott Adams said. “We’ve been in a lot of close regional games, but the crazy thing was they never took the lead. They tied it up under two minutes, and when the (Coogler) girl took the 3-point shot, I thought it was going to go in and give them the lead, but we kept scrapping and scrapping.”
Terry tallied 10 points, six rebounds and a pair of assists for Holly Pond. Taylor Rowell and Meg Gambrill both contributed nine points. Holcombe finished with eight points and 13 rebounds.
Thompson led Piedmont with 16 points, six rebounds and four steals.
The game marked the end of the varsity careers of five Lady Bulldog seniors, including 1,000-career point scorers Thompson and Garner. Coogler, Tivis Green and Brittany Holloway are the other Piedmont seniors.
The group helped guide Piedmont to its first regional appearance since 2008.
“In 2008, we had a special group, but I’ve never had a senior class as a whole I feel like I’ve been as close to as this bunch,” he said. “This senior class, I don’t know if I’ll ever coach another one like this. I said that five years ago, but this is a very special group of young ladies.
“They have very good character. They’re going to make people some good mothers and wives someday. I wouldn’t have a problem with my son marrying any one of them. That’s the kind of people they are. We’re going to miss them tremendously.”