CLAYTON — Sitting comfortably on a 15-point lead in the third quarter Friday, the South Johnston girls’ basketball team was well on its way to its third consecutive blowout victory.
Only it didn’t exactly pan out that way.
The Trojans managed to hold on – albeit by their fingertips – for a 36-31 Eastern Carolina 3A win over rival and host Cleveland.
Down 31-21 to start the final period, the Rams came storming back and held the Trojans without a field goal until the final two minutes. A three-pointer by Cleveland’s Courtney Ireland with 1:20 left to play made it just a three-point deficit at 34-31. After a Trojan miss at the other end, Cleveland got a wide open look at a game-tying 3-pointer that rimmed out.
The Rams (7-8 overall, 1-4 Eastern Carolina 3A Conference) trailed 26-11 at one point in the second half until a 15-5 run bridging the third and fourth quarters made things interesting. Prior to that run, it was a 20-4 South Johnston spurt that put the ball in the hands of the Trojans (5-6, 3-1).
“We have to work on being more consistent and coming out strong,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “From about halfway of the first quarter to about halfway of the third quarter -- we’ve got to eliminate those stretches where we’re having those kinds of issues.”
Alexis Massengill led all scorers with 11 points for South Johnston, while the freshman duo of Anna Webster and Emma Blackmon combined for 13 of the Trojans’ 20 first-half points. Eight players found the scoring column for the Trojans.
“I was proud of them for breaking the press the way they did tonight,” South Johnston coach Ronda Johnson said. “(Cleveland) was really playing some pretty good defense tonight and we have three freshmen starting and I’m real proud of them taking what we’ve been working on and applying it.
“I’m real pleased of the way the girls executed and played against all the pressure that they got tonight.”
Ireland and Brittany Preston scored seven points apiece for the Rams while Cheyenne Wall hauled in 17 rebounds.
“I’m really proud of our effort, especially late, and not giving up. It shows some leadership,” Danehower said.
After dropping four out of five games, the Trojans have now won three straight.
“We’re starting to show the chemistry that we didn’t show before Christmas,” Johnson said. “We’re finally starting to see it. We’re developing some team chemistry and we have a large team so it helps when everyone can go in and contribute.”