WINTERVILLE — Two Southwest Wake Athletic Conference teams came to Winterville’s South Central High in Monday night’s opening round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A basketball playoffs hoping for upsets.
But an early lead from Holly Springs’ girls dissipated into a 47-45 loss and Cary’s boys traded baskets with the Falcons all game long before falling in the final seconds by a 64-61 score.
Holly Springs was a 26-seed trying to knock off No. 7, while Cary was No. 27 hoping to upset No. 6.
Hawks girls stopped in second half
Holly Springs scored six points in the last four seconds of the first half in wild fashion, but that’s where the points barrage stopped.
The Golden Hawks (15-8) saw a 14-point halftime lead disappear as they managed just 15 points – it was 12 before a halfcourt shot at the game’s end went in.
“Story of our season,” Hawks coach Richard Young said. “We shot 20-30 percent on the season. That’s just not getting it done.”
Holly Springs’ six-points-in-four-seconds sequence started when Brianna Tate (13 points) was fouled as she made a layup. She missed the free throw, which Kayla Arthur collected and scored while everyone else watched, thinking there were two shots.
Flustered South Central (18-8) inbounded the ball but Ryian Billingsley stole it and laid it in as time expired.
South Central, which had 17 rebounds in the first half but even more missed shots, began to find its rhythm in the second half.
South Central played 12 players in the first half and had no problem playing an up-and-down game while Holly Springs tried to slow it down.
Senior Hadiya Howard had 12 points and 20 rebounds in the loss. Vielka Barber had 11 points.
The Hawks graduate four seniors, including Kiara Leslie – who could suit up but not play at season’s end as she recovered from a hip injury that limited her to just six games at the beginning of the year.
“I’m looking forward to working with these young girls in the offseason,” Young said.
Imps push Falcons to the brink
When South Central’s Tyrik Suggs scored 10 of the game’s first 16 points and the Falcons led 12-4, it looked like Cary was heading for a blowout loss.
But the Imps’ fullcourt traps turned the tide. Cary tied South Central (22-3) after the first and second quarter and took a third quarter lead.
The Imps were up late in the fourth quarter when South Central rebounded a missed free throw and kicked out for an open 3-pointer to tie it.
Cary (12-12) turned the ball over twice in the last 43 seconds of a tied game.
“We’ve just never gotten any better at late-game situations. You can’t close out games when you turn the ball over,” Imps coach Allan Gustafson said. “It’s frustrating to lose the same way. We get into a position to win – which we have been a lot lately – and then just not finish it out.”
Cary senior Chris Pulcher-Coard had 12 points and 16 rebounds. Freshman Dante Tatum had 19 points off the bench and sophomore Cory Gensler had 13 points and eight assists.
“I liked the mix of kids we had,” Gustafson said, then commended three seniors – Donte Robinson, C.J. Lyon and Dante Cooper – who exercised their grandfather clause to remain at Cary even as their families have moved.
“I appreciate their loyalty to the school and to the program,” he said.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps