CLAYTON — Clayton could have expected a tough battle when Smithfield-Selma’s best girls’ basketball team in years came calling on Friday.
Instead, the Comets played perhaps their best first quarter of the year and never looked back against their Johnston county rivals.
Vanessa Pitts poured in 19 points, leading three Comets in double figures in a 66-44 romp over the Spartans in Greater Neuse River 4A Conference play.
The win improved the Comets to 8-2, 1-2 in conference play, while SSS fell to 6-3 and 3-1.
Jenna Harris scored 12 points and Taisha Murphy 11 for the Comets.
“We haven’t played in about two weeks, and then we had a conference game – a rival game – and I applaud our girls’ effort,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “We jumped out to a big lead. We got lackadaisical at times, but we played great in spurts, and the most important thing was that it was our first conference win.”
SSS lost despite getting 18 points from Sabrina Shepherd and 10 from Breanna Chappell.
“We didn’t play that well tonight,” SSS coach William Saunders said. “Some nights you just don’t get the job done. I knew Clayton was better than what their record was.
“I still feel like we’re headed in the right direction. There’s no reason we can’t turn it right back around.”
Clayton led 36-21 at halftime, courtesy of a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Murphy.
SSS led 5-2 before Murphy’s first 3-pointer, and then 8-7 before the Comets responded with a 15-0 run including another of her 3-pointers and one from Harris.
The Comets led 23-15 after the first period.
“Being on break for so long and having only a couple of practices, I was surprised we came out as strong as we did,” Murphy said. “But this is a big rivalry, and this is probably the best game we’ve played all year.
“We’re a really young team playing against a lot of teams full of seniors, like when we lost to Harnett Central and Southeast (Raleigh). I think we’ve got a good chance to be on top of the conference soon.”
Pitts scored Clayton’s first eight points of the second half, and the Comets led 51-32 after three periods.
“This was probably my best game,” Pitts said. “I was able to get my shot a lot tonight. I really feel like we’re going to be good. We had our minds in the game tonight.”
Clayton’s biggest lead was 64-41 on a Pitts layup with 2:28 to go. The Comets outscored the Spartans in all four quarters.
“We started off badly with a lot of the turnovers,” Shepherd said. “They really messed us up. We got a little surprised by how well (Pitts) played. But we’ll be OK. It’s pretty good to be 3-1 in the conference.”