RALEIGH — – Second-seeded Durham Academy pushed top-seed Cary Academy to two overtimes Friday night in the TISAC girls’ basketball tournament final, but the Chargers finally outlasted the Cavaliers 54-50 to take the title.
It was Cary Academy coach Mike Zeillmann’s first shot at a conference championship, but for Mickayla Sanders and the rest of the seniors it was their fourth. And every time the Chargers needed a big play Sanders provided it.
“Mickayla had lost in this game three times in a row,” Zeillman said. “So she really wanted this one. And she stepped up huge for us.”
Sanders’ first big moment came with 55 seconds in the regulation. Down one, with the coaches screaming foul, she reached in, ripped the ball away at midcourt and laid the ball in to put Cary Academy back in front 40-39.
“I saw my team working hard to get a steal,” Sanders said. “So I went for the ball and the girl turned into me, which let me get it away from her without fouling.”
Durham Academy’s Amanda Lawrence forced the first overtime period with a late free throw, and the Cavaliers again took a lead into the final minute. But just like before, Sanders made the important play.
She got fouled with 20 seconds left down by two and made both free throws to tie the score at 47-47 and force the second overtime.
In the final extra period, Sanders’ teammates did the early work and the Cavs pulled away a bit. Rebekah Banks and Cassie Stafford each scored a couple to push the lead to four.
Sanders wouldn’t be left though, she knocked down one of two free throws to put Cary up five and essentially seal the game and finish off her TISAC career with a conference championship.
“To finally win this is a great feeling,” she said, wearing her crown as tournament most outstanding player. “This team, we’ve been playing together for a long time. This feels really good.”
The boys’ final didn’t need overtimes, but it didn’t lack for drama. Third-seeded North Raleigh Christian Academy pushed regular season champ Ravenscroft to the wire, but the host Ravens held on to win 46-41 and take the title.
The underdog Knights knocked out second-seeded Durham Academy 38-28 to advance to the championship, so Ravens coach Kevin Billerman expected a tough game.
“They have a good team,” he said. “And they’d played us close this year already. I expected it to be close.”
North Raleigh Christian got out to a quick start and led 13-6 after the first quarter. Trey Patton had a hot hand from behind the 3-point arc to spark the Knights out of the gate.
Ravenscroft settled down in the second, though, and outscored the North Raleigh Christian 19-9 to take a 25-22 lead into the break.
In the third quarter, both teams struggled a bit to get in an offensive rhythm. North Raleigh Christian made a couple of plays late in the period to pull back in front and led 32-31 headed into the fourth quarter.
Down the stretch, though, the Ravens made the plays to win. Matt Quesenberry hit two huge 3-pointers, the second with less than three minutes left to give Ravenscroft a 40-39, its first advantage since midway through the third quarter.
“Quesenberry was really big for us,” Billerman said. “His steal and then those two 3s was the difference for us in the fourth quarter.”
Greg Harper was also clutch. The Ravens’ forward followed a miss with 1:15 left regain the lead at 42-41, a lead which they would never relinquish.
“We’ve played a ton of close games this year,” Billerman said. “Our guys never stop playing. We’ve very good defensively and we don’t stop playing. This team just hangs in there and never quits.”