Knights' night: Late push gives Northern Nash close win in rivalry game

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Northern Nash’s Kylar Wiggins, left, plays defense on Rocky Mount High’s Alexis Moore Tuesday during Northern Nash’s home.


Sports Writer

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

After his team’s victory over Rocky Mount High on Tuesday night, Grover Battle’s voice was fading but his words were strong.

After his Northern Nash girls’ basketball team came back from seven points down in the final minutes for a 32-31 win at home over the rival Gryphons, he was proud.

“We’re young, we’re foolish, but we played hard,” Battle said. “We made a lot of mistakes, but at the end we overcame our mistakes, our missed free throws, our turnovers. Our girls pushed through with a lot of heart.”

What the contest lacked in scoring it made up in intensity — the kind ever-present in a matchup between these two teams that elevates any game in any sport from an unweighted regular season game to a must-win.

Rocky Mount High (12-5, 1-3), which was playing without two contributors in Jada Morris and KenAngela Barnes, held a lead for virtually the entire game. The Gryphons, led by 13 points from Alexis Moore on four made 3-pointers, were up 14-10 after the first quarter, 18-15 at halftime, and 26-22 at the end of the third quarter.

They led by seven points, at 31-24, with 3:45 to go in the game, but didn’t score again as the Knights (7-8, 4-1) closed the game on an 8-0 run. Kanasia Arrington gave Northern Nash its first lead with a bucket under the basket with 1:07 left, and neither team would score again; a jump ball with six seconds left after two missed free throws by NNHS would give the ball back to the Knights, and they dribbled it out from there.

“The only thing in my mind when the game was over, was that it was good to get that win,” junior Kylar Wiggins said. “During preseason, a lot of other teams doubted us, a lot of people doubted us, so it feels good to rise to that challenge and do something no one else thought was going to happen.”

The Knights, after a slow start to the season, are still a game under .500, but entered the night tied for first place in the Big East. The win improved their conference record to 4-1.

It counts for one in the standings, of course, but there’s also something less tangible to a win like that.

“It’s heated because of all the people in the stands,” said Wiggins, who knows much of the Rocky Mount High team and grew up playing on the same middle school team as Moore. “There’s a lot of pressure, but I think the camaraderie between teammates and schoolmates cheering you on, that’s what gets you through it.”

Wiggins led all scorers with 14 points, including three 3-pointers and two free throws that started the 8-0 run to close out the game.

Behind Moore’s 13 points for the Gryphons, senior Mya Pittman had 10, with six of those coming in the first quarter, an eight-minute period in which Rocky Mount High at one point led, 9-2.

The Knights, though, called for a press-and-trap defense that forced the Gryphons into a few turnovers. Northern Nash got back in the game, trailing by four going into the second quarter, and hung around long enough to make the game-winning run at the end.

“There were some things we were supposed to do to get us out of the press, and we didn’t do it,” RMHS coach Pam Gainey said. “But we had people playing who hadn’t played a lot, and they did well. I thought we played well in certain stretches, we just couldn’t finish.”