To use youth and inexperience as a crutch when finding the words to explain how a double-digit lead turned into third-round playoff loss is something Rocky Mount High girls’ basketball coach Pam Gainey never considered.
“Young or not,” the Gryphons longtime coach said, “you have to value the basketball.”
The Gryphons were slowed by turnovers and a cold shooting stretch in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter as Wilson Hunt charged to a 62-57 victory on Saturday in the third round of the Class 3-A playoffs.
The win advanced the Warriors into the fourth round for the first time in school history where No. 10 Hunt will play at No. 3 E.E. Smith on Tuesday.
For RMH, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, the loss ends a standout season that was largely guided by a roster full of freshmen. Six of the top seven scoring averages were held by ninth graders.
No moment seemed too large, as the Gryphons claimed four different titles throughout the season, including a pair of holiday tournament crowns, a regular season Big East Conference championship and a conference tournament title over the same Hunt team that ended their season on Saturday.
In the fourth meeting between the two rivals, it was the Warriors who found a way to stay sharp in the fourth quarter. RMH (23-5) had led ever since erasing a one-point Hunt lead after the first quarter by pulling away in the second and third quarters.
Hunt went on a 7-0 run in the third to cut the deficit to three points, only to have the Gryphons close the quarter on a 7-0 run of their own to take a 46-36 lead into the final frame. But RMH wasn’t able to keep the Warriors from making their game-winning push.
“In the playoffs a team isn’t just going to lose,” Gainey said. “You have to put them away. That’s when it’s crunch time. Possessions, layups and free throws. Usually we do well on that, but tonight we didn’t and we lost.
Hunt took its first lead since the first quarter at 56-55 with 2:11 to play. The Gryphons got the lead right back on a Dee Graham layup seconds later. Those points would be the last RMH would score as Hunt scored the next eight points as part of a game-closing 13-2 run.
The Gryphons missed all six free throw attempts in the final three minutes of the game.
“I thought we ran our offense and continued to score throughout the game,” Gainey said. “But in crunch time we turned it over too many times and didn’t convert when we had the opportunities.”
Imani Sutton scored 11 of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead Hunt.
Caroline Thiel, the Gryphons’ leading scorer this season, finished with a team-high 16 points, but just two of those came in the second half. Thiel also added 13 rebounds.
Graham was next with 15 points, 10 of which came in the second half. Graham was the engine motoring the Gryphons along in the fourth quarter as she scored her team’s first six points. The freshman had eight of RMH’s 11 points in the final quarter.
Also for the Gryphons, freshman Nyla Powell added 13 points, and senior Alexis Moore was also in double figures with 10 points. Paris Evans had three points as her 3-pointer from the corner kicked off that 7-0 run to close the third.
RMH will return much of this year’s squad as the Gryphons will lose just three players to graduation.
“They’re a great bunch of kids. They worked hard and we probably overachieved, but we could’ve got this one here,” Gainey said. “But just a fantastic group of kids, their attitudes are good, they’re learning to work hard and I really appreciate their effort all season long.
North Edgecombe 70 Princeton 53
The top-seeded Warriors advance to the Class 1-A fourth round after another convincing win.
North Edgecombe will host No. 5 Granville Central on Tuesday. Granville Central has won each of its three postseason games by at least 16 points.
Westover 82 Rocky Mount High 55
The Gryphons’ season came to an end on Saturday in the third round of the Class 3-A playoffs.
This was the closest game that top-seeded Westover has played through the first three round. No. 24 RMH played tough, and was searching for another upset. By the end of the first quarter the teams were tied at 19-19, but RMH couldn’t keep pace.