RALEIGH — Cary High girls basketball has its first conference title since 2005. In a game that had a breack-neck pace, star performances and unheralded role players making big plays, the Imps held off Athens Drive 63-59 in overtime on Wednesday night.
And so the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference championship belongs to the Imps.
Cary (20-3, 12-2) got 24 points, 32 rebounds and six blocks from senior Azura Stevens while Athens Drive’s Grace Hunter had 28 points, 10 rebounds and five steals.
“We’ve been playing really well this last stretch of the season. We’ve had a lot of girls step up and our defense has been stepping up. So hey, ‘why not us?’” Cary coach Pat Daly said.
Athens Drive doubled Stevens – whose 32 rebounds ties the N.C. High School Athletic Association record for fifth-most in a single game – and dared others to shoot. But whether it was Mallory Curtis (19 points) or Meredith Courtney (eight points) or another Imps player, Cary was made perimeter shots.
“I knew we were going to (win the SWAC) it was just a matter of how,” Curtis said. “I just kept making it from 3 so I kept shooting.”
Athens Drive’s Hunter was hard for Cary to stop. With 6.3 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Stevens made two free throws to go up 55-53.
Stevens almost stole the inbounds pass, but Hunter went coast-to-coast, weaving around and through three Imps players before her buzzer-beating layup sent the game into overtime.
“I was thrilled when I took this job two years ago and we’ve been so fortunate with the talent that’s come in,”
“We can’t hang our head. We’ve push forward and refocus. We’re going to the state tournament so we can’t worry about this,” Athens coach Dayna Jordan said. “I think we’re really excited to play in the state tournament and who we play against.”
In overtime, the Imps got Stevens to the foul line while the Jags missed crucial shots from the charity stripe.
The Jaguars (15-8, 10-4) have the conference’s third automatic playoff spot, finishing a game behind Apex.
In the rest of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference, No. 4 Holly Springs, No. 5 Green Hope and No. 6 Panther Creek will likely be in the playoffs as wild-cards.
Fuquay-Varina swept Middle Creek in the last week and a half of the regular season to secure seventh place.
In the boys basketball standings, Apex clinched its fourth regular-season boys basketball conference title in the last five years while Panther Creek will take the league’s No. 2 automatic berth.
Middle Creek ends alone in third and Holly Springs, after starting the year 0-7 overall, is fourth. The Golden Hawks could be one of the last teams into the 4A playoffs or first teams left out.
Fifth-place Cary is in the playoffs for sure. The Imps swept a season series with sixth-place Green Hope, who will miss the postseason.
The Fuquay-Varina boys stopped a 22-conference game losing streak in Monday’s win against Athens Drive and both teams tied for last.
The conference tournament was canceled this year after snow days postponed games in two of the last weeks of the seasons.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps