To Northern Nash, this season has felt like a year – finally – that belongs to them and not to their rival.
Four times in a row, the Knights had lost to Rocky Mount High in the Big East Conference Tournament championship game, and for a short while Friday, the bad memories arose and doubt came over the Knights.
The two teams were tied after three quarters at Rocky Mount High School, but in the game’s deciding moments – thanks to a key run and two important defensive plays in the fourth quarter – the final game on the Big East schedule belongs to Northern Nash.
Officially, the Knights have the 2014 regular season and tournament crowns with a 52-44 victory against Rocky Mount, their fourth victory against the Gryphons this season.
“I just told (my teammates), we’ve been here over and over again, and it has been the same result,” Northern Nash senior guard Alexus Hill said. “We had to be the team to change it. They executed. We all executed.”
The No. 1 seed Knights (23-1) were close to flawless in the first quarter, turning over the ball once, holding Rocky Mount to six points and creating a 10-point lead early in the second quarter.
Rocky Mount (14-8) recovered quickly. After Northern Nash took a 10-point lead, the Gryphons immediately went on an 11-0 run to take a lead of their own.
Rocky Mount led by two at half, and after four lead-changes and five ties in the third quarter, the two squads were tied at 38 with eight minutes remaining in the game.
Hill and her squad took control in the early portion of the fourth. Kayla Tucker hit a key putback to give the Knights a 40-38 advantage – a lead that stuck for the rest of the game – then Hill made back-to-back runners. CeCe Harrison made a lay-up off an offensive rebound, and Hill made the first key defensive play with steal and a lay-up on a breakaway.
With the Knights earning stops on the other end, it was a 10-1 run and a nine-point lead at the most crucial time.
Rocky Mount went more than six minutes to start the quarter without a field goal.
“I think it broke down for us in that period,” Rocky Mount coach Pam Gainey said. “We had a stretch there where everything we called scored, then we started running some things we hadn’t called, and it got away.”
Keyanna Spivey, who had 13 points, scored five points in a row after the Knights’ run to bring the Gryphons within four with 35 seconds to play.
On the ensuing inbound play, dread briefly set in for Northern Nash. The Knights threw away the ball, and Rocky Mount was breaking for a lay-up to make it a one-possession game.
Kiana Thomas had a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds Friday, but no play was bigger than her block to stop the breakway. Her rebound gave the Knights possession and an eventual win.
“She (has) been doing an outstanding job for us all season,” Northern Nash coach Grover Battle said of Thomas, a Nash Central transfer. “We’ve been very blessed to have her.”
Carmen Richardson led Rocky Mount with 14 points.
Hill led all scorers with 19 points. She also grabbed seven rebounds and was named tournament MVP.
The two teams could meet again, but Hill said “if we see them, we see them. This year is going to be different.”
Hill has been in three losing locker rooms in the Big East Championship game. Friday was a little different. She smiled as her teammates screamed and sang and made all types of happy noises in the locker room.
“We needed it. Coach Battle needed it. The school needed it,” Hill said. “We’re used to coming in the locker room and being upset. Now, we can celebrate.
“I told them before the game this is the first step in a long journey.”
Northern Nash 52
Rocky Mount High 44
RMH 6 18 14 6 – 44
NN 14 8 16 14 – 52
RMH: Carmen Richardson (14 points); Keyanna Spivey (13 points); Shelby Meeks, Tamara Harper (6 points); Destini Parker (3 points); Takeyra Thomas (2 points).
NN: Alexus Hill (19 points); Kiana Thomas (11 points); Susie Sykes (7 points); Kayla Tucker (6 points); Jahlia Williams (4 points); Alexia Hines (3 points); CeCe Harrison (2 points).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@