Middle Creek needed a win.
Blowout losses were piling up for the Mustangs, who have played what is assuredly the toughest nonconference schedule in Wake County thus far.
On top of that, two of its best forwards were injured.
But Tuesday’s 58-49 win against visiting Leesville Road was a turn for the better.
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“We had a few down games, but coming back and getting a huge win like this was definitely great for our team and huge for our morale,” Middle Creek junior Justin Tankelewicz said. “Tonight, it was just our hustle, our boxing out, our rebounding. Everything like that – the small things – make all the difference.”
All four Middle Creek (2-4) losses have come to undefeated teams (Seventy-First, Millbrook, Garner twice). Each time, the opposition won by at least 16 points.
Injury was added to insult when Daniel Jackson is out with appendicitis, and Sheldon Eberhardt had a tendinitis in his knee just before the game.
“That kind of changed the game plan a little bit at the last second,” Middle Creek coach David Kushner said.
But in beating the Pride (4-3), the Mustangs led 27-17 at halftime.
“It helps us come together as a team more when we’re missing guys and we know people have to step up. And now we know if we’re missing someone, we always have someone who can step into their spot,” Tankelewicz said.
He led all Middle Creek scorers with 15 points, including four 3-pointers. He was joined in double-figures by Demetrius Bastian (12 points), Shammond Hicks (11) and Bryson Cousins (10).
Meanwhile, Leesville is looking for answers during an up-and-down season that’s had wins against two of the last three state champs – Apex and New Hanover – coupled with losses.
The Pride cut Middle Creek’s lead to seven in the fourth quarter, which is as close as it got in the second half.
“We came out very lethargic and our team did not respond very well at the beginning. It was almost like we stepped in quicksand,” Leesville Road coach Russ Frazier said. “We dug ourselves a hole by being lethargic and not executing, but credit Middle Creek for putting us that way.”
Leesville was led by 18 points from Ben Zemonek, 11 from Alex Hunter and nine from Jonathan Mebane.
Frazier wants more consistency from his team.
“We show up for the showdown when the gym’s packed but we don’t show up for lonely Tuesdays. Winning on the lonely Tuesdays are where great high school teams are made,” Frazier said. “We are hoping we can get the wind at our back and build some momentum. We’ve had some big wins and we’ve had some disappointing nights at the same time.”