HOLLY SPRINGS — Shots fell, players celebrated realized dreams, demons were exorcised and school history was made Friday night in both Tri-9 basketball conference tournament championships.
Host Holly Springs pulled out a 57-50 win against reigning four-time regular season and three-time tournament champ Green Hope. The Golden Hawks girls handed the Falcons their first loss to a Tri-9 opponent since the 2009 conference tournament final – a winning streak of 76 games.
It was the first conference tournament title in school history for the Hawks.
Green Hope’s boys, making their third straight appearance in the Tri-9’s title game, went on a big run to close out top-seeded Apex with a 77-64 win in overtime. The Falcons had never won a conference tournament title in program history, including an overtime loss to Apex in last year’s title game.
Holly Springs beats the streak
Ka’la Jordan was ready.
A senior, Jordan said she and her teammates were nervous for the season’s first game against Green Hope, a four-point loss, and butterflies for the second one, a four-point home loss in double overtime.
On Friday, the Hawks kept their cool. “It was like practicing. We’d practiced against them twice and now we were prepared for this game,” Jordan said. With the home gym rocking, the Hawks went up 12 in the second quarter, but the Falcons went on a 12-0 run to tie the score at 28 at halftime.
But the turning point, said coach Richard Young, came when his star junior Kiara Leslie picked up her fourth foul with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
The Hawks didn’t falter without Leslie, going only from up one to down one by the end of the period. At the start of the fourth, two other big shots gave the Hawks a three-point lead with Leslie still on the bench.
“When the rest of the team was not fazed and they stepped up, that was the biggest part,” Young said.
When Leslie entered, she got to the free-throw line at will.
Lauren Midgette and Cassidey Sowards led the Falcons with 18 and 14 points, respectively. Senior Ashley Williams, who has started each game in Green Hope’s streak, had 10 points and nine assists.
Jordan had 15 points. Leslie, who was named conference player of the year for the second straight season, had 18 points and nine rebounds.
The Hawks’ Hannah Buckley and Hadiya Howard added nine points apiece.
Falcons close out on 20-2 run
Two years ago, then-sophomores John Mosser, Grant Rassmussen and Damon Bidgood watched as six-seed Lee County won the tournament final, eliminating their fifth-seeded Falcons from the state playoffs. Last year, they felt dagger after dagger from Apex’s T.J. Evans, who led the Cougars to an overtime win on Green Hope’s home floor.
This year, they were the first ones to touch the school’s first conference tournament trophy.
“It’s just finally good to win one,” Rasmussen said. “We knew what to expect. We knew we had to play our hearts out, and we did.”
It was a heart-stopping final few minutes. Down five, Green Hope sophomore reserve Jack Costigan hit a 3-pointer with 1:07 to go.
A block on the other end kept the ball in the Falcons’ hands for much of the final minute, where David Robertson (26points) tied it on a driving layup with 20 seconds to go.
Evans, a junior, had the ball in his hands on the final Apex possession, but his floater danced in and out of the rim. Green Hope coach John Green said his heart was “on the floor” as he watched it rattle out.
Rasmussen scored the first points of overtime to put the Cougars on their heels early in the extra period. As the Falcons continued to connect on free throws, they ended up with a 20-2 run in the final 1 minute, 24 seconds.
“We stopped settling and started getting to the basket,” Mosser said.
Green Hope’s senior quartet of Rasmussen (21 points), Mosser (20), Bidgood (seven) and Robertson accounted for all of the Falcons’ points except for Costigan’s three.
“You talk all year about seniors and stepping up,” Green said. “We’ve got so much leadership and experience with our guys that they didn’t get stressed out.”
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps