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Northern Nash's Alexus Hill, left, high-fives her teammates after the Lady Knights' 59-41 victory over Cardinal Gibbons at the NCHSAA third round payoffs game Friday at Northern Nash High School.

Telegram photo / Hannah Potes

Northern Nash's Alexus Hill, left, high-fives her teammates after the Lady Knights' 59-41 victory over Cardinal Gibbons at the NCHSAA third round payoffs game Friday at Northern Nash High School.

Knights hope for the best in spite of lightened practice schedule

By Nick Piotrowicz

Sports Writer

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Weather forced Northern Nash to cancel its final practice ahead of the NCHSAA 3-A Eastern Regional semifinals at 7 p.m. today against West Craven.

One of the top players in the state, Jamie Cherry, a North Carolina commit, is on the other side, and the Knights have had hardly any chance to prepare for her.

It’s the biggest game of the season at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, a place at which only one of the Knights’ players has played.

Even without the unforeseen troubles, longtime Northern Nash coach Grover Battle said he always feels the same way about every game.

“I’m always nervous,” Battle said.

Tonight’s contest might offer even in more in the way of nerves. No. 2 seed Northern Nash (26-1) won its 26th straight game Friday against Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons, playing what likely was its best game of the season.

Since then, the Knights have had a simple walk-through, and that’s it.

Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools made the decision to 
release early Monday morning, a move that cancelled all evening activities, including the Knights’ 
practice.

Northern Nash never had a chance to implement its strategy for Cherry and the third-seeded Eagles (26-1).

“We couldn’t practice at all,” Battle said. “That’s a disadvantage because the Cherry girl is such a good player, and overall the team is such a good team. They’ve been in the regional playoffs the last few years. They’re very good.”

The Eagles have made three straight trips to Fayetteville, losing to Rocky Mount High in the regional semifinals in 2012 and losing to Chapel Hill in the regional finals last season.

Cherry, now a senior, is averaging 33.6 points per game. In three playoffs games so far this year, she has recorded point totals of 52, 43 and 32.

Battle said the Knights were planning to go through an overview of West Craven and its star player on Monday, but they will have to scrap those plans and adjust as they go.

“We’ll have to something different now,” Battle said. “We’ll do something different because we didn’t have a practice. We didn’t have an opportunity to work on things we might need to do. (Cherry is) such a good performer and she can shoot it from anywhere on the floor.”

Northern Nash’s advantage might be in heighth. For as good as the 5-foot-6 Cherry is, her team does not have a player who is 6-foot or taller.

The Knights have two 6-foot-3 post players, Kiana Thomas and CeCe Harrison, in their starting five.

Thomas in particular has been excellent for Northern Nash. She had 15 points and 15 rebounds in Northern Nash’s victory against Cardinal Gibbons, a game the Knights dominated inside. Northern Nash outrebounded Cardinal Gibbons, 43-16.

Still, the Knights’ top scorer, Alexus Hill, is a guard. Point guard Alexia Hines had one of her top games of the season Friday, and Battle said Northern Nash is comfortable no matter which shape the game takes.

“We play big when we need to, but we play well when go small sometimes, too,” Battle said. “I feel comfortable either way that we have to play and whatever way we have to adapt.”

The constant, Battle said, is that Northern Nash would have had to play well tonight in any case.

When its comes time for tipoff, the Knights need a good game regardless of their preparation.

“Hopefully you just go play,” Battle said. “Monday practices are ugly anyway because of the weekend. We missed two days, but we have to come out and perform well.”

Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz
@rmtelegram.com