A golden three hovered in the air near the Rocky Mount High locker room Wednesday night, surround by a small collection of balloons.
The balloons celebrated the birthday of senior guard Carmen Richardson, who wears No. 3.
It actually was Richardson who gave Rocky Mount a gift in the Big East Conference Tournament semifinals. After watching a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead slip away in less than two minutes, Richardson took control.
She scored 10 of her game-high 27 points in the fourth and tallied the final eight points of the game as Rocky Mount held off Wilson Hunt for a 52-49 victory and earned a berth in the championship game Friday when they’ll defend their title.
“All this week, we’ve been working on the fact that we have to trust one another,” Richardson said. “I tell them I’ve got their back and they need to have mine. ... I told them, 'When things get tough, you can lean on me. I’ve got it.’”
Rocky Mount (14-7) built a nine-point lead after holding the Warriors (14-9) without a field goal for 8:49 in the second half. Wilson Hunt’s field goal to break that stretch, which ended with 3:40 to play, was part of an 8-0 spurt in a little more than two minutes.
“The game got ugly,” Rocky Mount coach Pam Gainey said. “If it gets ugly, win an ugly game. That’s kind of what we did. We’ll take it when we can get it. ... Making it ugly kind of works in our favor because sometimes we play ugly.”
Richardson cleaned up the game after Gainey made a point of emphasis to find the Gryphons’ leading scorer.
“We had to do something to make sure she got it,” Gainey said. “... Clarity was the best option.”
Richardson dribbled through the entire defense for a lay-up and went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 100 seconds to seal the victory, which was in doubt until Richardson’s free throws with 0.4 seconds to play.
Gainey called it fitting that Richardson would come through for the team on her birthday after helping a young team along for much of the season – the perfect gift. Rocky Mount High 52 Wilson Hunt 49 WH 14 14 6 15 – 49 RMH 14 14 12 12 – 52 WH: Alexus Williams (15 points); Bri Pate (11 points); Kiana Ballard (8 points); Briuanna Anderson (6 points); Destinee Hinnant (4 points); Dani Harris (3 points); Endye Frazier (2 points). RMH: Carmen Richardson (27 points); Keyanna Spivey (13 points); Tamara Harper (5 points); Michelle Gainey (4 points); Shelby Meeks (3 points). Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org