Cary Christian wanted to add to its trophy case in the Eastern Plains Independent 2A Conference tournament championships on Saturday at Rocky Mount Academy.
The tournaments ended with finals that pitted the top two teams from the regular season against each other again and yielded no upsets.
The Knights girls came up short to Halifax Academy 61-48, while the boys held off rival St. David’s 68-62. In light of the winter weather, most first-round games of the EPIC were played on Monday and the semifinals and finals were held on Saturday.
Knights’ balanced effort wins again
When it came time for a tournament MVP to be named, any Cary Christian player could have been asked to come forward to accept the plaque.
The Knights’ forte all season has been their balanced play. Against St. David’s, six players scored seven points or more and four hit double-digits. Cary Christian (23-5) also racked up 16 team assists as teammates found each other no matter what defense the Warriors put up.
Nick Smith received the award after his nine points, four rebounds and five assists in the title game.
“It’s a testament to our team,” Smith said of his award. “We’ve stayed together the whole season, played really hard together and that’s what’s made us so good.”
St. David’s cut it to two points with just 40 seconds to go. But Cary Christian’s Jason Thompson, from half court, found Smith under the basket to beat the Warriors’ press.
Caleb Ellis then stole the hurried inbounds pass and called timeout. The Knights, now up four, ended the game by being perfect from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds.
Scott Pechacek hit three first-half 3-pointers, scoring all 11 of his points in the first two quarters. Kaue Rabello had 12 points while Carson Gray and Ellis chipped in 10 each.
“It was a team effort tonight,” said Cary Christian coach Bill Thompson. “Our unselfishness (is our biggest asset) almost to a fault. We don’t care who scores.”
The Knights led 32-27 at halftime and earned a 10-seed in the 12-team N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A playoffs. St. David’s, led by Reef Ivey’s 16 points, was left out.
“I give credit to our guys for playing extremely hard,” St. David’s coach Will Coley said. “We’re building a little bit. We have a lot of sophomores on the floor and some first-year varsity players. ... We’ll learn from this and we’ll be back in this situation again and we’ll be on the sweeter end of it.”
The all-conference list included St. David’s Maalik Copeland and Robert O’Han as well as Cary Christian’s Ellis, Smith and Thompson, and Knights coach Bill Thompson was coach of the year. The player of the year was R.J. Hunt from Kerr-Vance Academy.
Ellis, Smith, Thompson, Copeland, O’Han and Ivey were named all-tournament.
Girls doomed by post play
Cary Christian’s girls (20-6) fell to Halifax Academy thanks to 6-foot-3 sophomore Kelly Williams.
Williams, who was named tournament and conference MVP, had 34 points, 24 rebounds and drew more than 15 fouls.
Three Knights players had picked up three first-half fouls guarding Williams, and it was Williams’ putback that put the Vikings ahead 27-25 at halftime.
“It was painful,” Cary Christian coach Shelly Holmes said.
The Knights were led by all-conference players Julie Thompson (nine points in the title game), Caitlyn Cannon (20) and Grace Smith (10). Thompson and Cannon were named all-tournament. Cary Christian received a 4-seed in the NCISAA playoffs.
“We want to go further than we did last year. We’re hungry,” Holmes said.