It was a night of rematches, get-evens, and championships — Duplin versus Sampson bragging rights: James Kenan vs Lakewood and Wallace-Rose Hill vs Union.
Lakewood girls and Wallace boys stepped up to earn those bragging rights and take the Tri-County Tournament championship trophy home for the second year in a row.
The Union High gym was packed with fans from the four schools, plus those from other schools who like to watch good basketball.
Varsity Girls Championship
The girls championship game was another come-from-behind win in overtime against the Lady Tigers. During the regular season, Lakewood won in overtime at James Kenan and then won at Lakewood on a controversial 2-point buzzer-beater by Bianca Moore to keep their two-season winning streak alive.
On Friday night, it was another smart move by Moore that sent the championship game into overtime. The Tigers made a layup to put the score at 38-40 when Lakewood got the ball back with seven seconds on the clock.
The team passed the ball down court and Moore drove toward the basket. As the James Kenan players converged on Moore, she made a quick bounce pass to Tasha Rich, who was waiting underneath the basket; Rich calmly layed it in to tie the score at 40.
It was obvious from the start of the game that Lakewood’s shooting was off and their inside girl, Tiesha Rich, was like a Tiger magnet when her hands touched the ball.
The Leopards were down 7 points at halftime, 18-25, and after five minutes of play in the third quarter had only scored one point to James Kenan’s five. A short time-out got them back on track, and at the start of the fourth quarter they had put 6 more points on the board, and held the Tigers to 2 points.
With less than a minute left in regulation, the Leopards were down by 4 points and emotions were running high on the court.
It was obvious the Leopards had not given up and truly believed they could win despite what the clock and scoreboard showed.
A free throw and a 3-pointer by Moore with 13 seconds left tied the game at 38. The Tigers came back with a 2-pointer to which the Leopards answered with their own basket to send the game into four more minutes.
Play was rough in OT, but Lakewood was finally able to take the lead and at one point the two teams traded 3-pointers to make the score 46-45 with about a minute left.
The Leopards held the ball causing the Lady Dogs to foul. The final score was 48-45.
“They don’t quit. They fight all the way,” an ecstatic Lakewood head coach Lofton Kerr said right after the game as he headed toward the locker room to congratulate his team.
A few minutes later he came out and commented on the game. “James Kenan is a tough team and we’re a tough team, but we managed to edge them out each time.”
In talking about his team, he called the girls “a group of warriors” and added with a laugh, “Sometimes they amaze me. We were down by about 5 points with maybe a minute to go and they never quit.”
“Bianca Moore made some incrdible plays. Tiesha Rich is just a flat-out warrior. She battled those big girls all night long. This team paid their dues tonight,” Coach Kerr stressed.
Despite those big girls hanging on to her, Tiesha managed to pull down a double-double by scoring 15 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Moore scored 13 points; Brittney Boykin, 9; Tasha Rich, 5 points; Kiera Rich, 4; and Swazay Marable, 2 points.
The NCHSAA tournament begins next week and Lakewood is the second seed in the East and will host all their games leading up to the semi-finals, which will be held at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville.
Their first game is Monday at 6 p.m.
Varsity Boys Championship
In the championship boys game, No. 2 Union started out with a cold hand and couldn’t get the ball to fall through the basket. About midway the first quarter, the No. 1 seeded Bulldogs were up by 10 points, 12-2.
The Spartans finally got on track and had pulled to within 5, but just before the buzzer sounded to end the first quarter, Wallace’s M. Newkirk sank a 3-pointer to put the score at 19-11.
Union was forced to play catch-up after that and managed to get to within 4 points near the end of the third quarter, 46-42, but Wallace-Rose Hill was able to answer with a basket of their own each time.
The Bulldogs made efficient use of the charity stripe, too, sinking 16 of their 20 free throw attempts, whereas the Spartans only converted 6 of their 16 shots.
Leading all scorers was Spartan Brandon Lovett with 22 points; Justin Smith scored 13; and Natrone Banks was one point behind with 10; Bakeem Murphy scored 7; and Dezmond Faison scored 2.
For the Bulldogs, M. Newkirk had 21 points and Jobasohan scored 18.
Union head coach Tim Pope was disappointed with the loss, but still proud of the way his team played for most of the game.
“Congratulations to Wallace on winning the championship. They out-hustled us in the first quarter and we got behind. Then we had to play catch-up the rest of the game. Plus we just couldn’t make the shots. There were a few times we got to within 4 points and couldn’t make a basket,” Coach Pope explained.
He added that Union will be the host team in the first round of the NCHSAA tournament that starts Monday. Game time is 6 p.m., but it was not definite on Friday as to which team the Spartans will go up against.