Published: Jan 01, 2012 02:33 AM
Modified: Dec 29, 2011 03:53 PM
CARY - When Rocky Mount took an 11-0 lead in the championship game of the four-team girls' bracket of the Holiday Invitational at Cary Academy on Tuesday, it looked like the beginning of a blowout loss for the Chargers.
But the hosts of the tournament responded with a 13-6 run to cut Rocky Mount's lead to four, and the Chargers (8-3) ended up hanging with the favored Gryphons (9-2) for the rest of the game before fading late to give Rocky Mount a 59-43 win that was closer than the final score indicated.
"We dug ourselves in a hole at first, but we really hung in there after that," said Cary Academy coach Danielle Harber. "Maybe it was jitters. They didn't seem nervous, but who knows, it was the first time in this situation for these kids."
Harber said she was still proud of her junior-heavy team and praised them for keeping it close with the Gryphons, a team Harber says is just as good as any, or better, that the Chargers would play in the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association playoffs.
"I look at these tournaments as experience for us to play in our state tournament," Harber said. "That (game) definitely was an example of what a state final game would be like. We know we're right there if we make a little less mistakes."
The Chargers haven't been known as NCISAA girls' basketball power, as they haven't advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 2006, but they're looking the part this year after starting 8-3 and beating opponents by an average of 17.6 points.
The Chargers crushed Cary 65-39 in the first round of the Holiday Invitational, handing the Imps (7-5) their worst loss of the season.
The Chargers, who only have one senior who consistently receives playing time, are led by junior forward Mickayla Sanders, who was named to the all-tournament team after scoring 47 points in two games.
Sanders twice had to sit out for a few minutes during the championship game due to an elbow and leg injury, so didn't have her best scoring output (17 points). But she still made several key stops on defense and drew attention away from her teammates on the perimeter
"Mickayla is an outstanding player who's just really gutsy," Harber said. "She missed some good scoring opportunities tonight, but overall she played extremely well and hustled."
The same thing could be said of the Chargers' performance as a whole in the fourth quarter against Rocky Mount.
The defense continually made stops by forcing turnovers and tough shots, but rarely capitalized - the Chargers didn't score for more than four minutes in the middle of the final period.
"We're young, and we have some mental lapses in some periods where we don't do well," Harber said. "But our team will never give up. They're tough kids and they'll fight to the very end."
Despite the loss, the Chargers' players took solace in the fact they reached their first tournament final since they've been at the school.
If they continue fighting, they could be experiencing some playoff success later this season.