The Corinth Holders girls basketball team completed a five-year climb to the top of the conference Thursday night.
The Pirates, whose first year as a team was in 2010 when the school opened its doors, defeated Erwin Triton 73-66 to claim the Two Rivers 3A Conference championship and the league’s No. 1 seed for the conference tournament and playoffs.
Corinth Holders (17-6, 8-2 Two Rivers) shared the regular-season title with Cleveland (also 8-2 in the league), but earned the No. 1 seed with a sweep of its two games with Cleveland.
“I’ve been telling them, ‘You girls have made history by doing this,’ ” Corinth Holders coach Brandy Smith said. “They deserved it. They worked hard.
“It’s a good feeling coming from where we started (five years ago) to where we are now. Having been here all five years, it’s a good feeling.”
Corinth Holders built an eight-point halftime lead at 39-31 and led 51-43 at the end of the third period. Then the Pirates put the ball in the hands of senior guard Tajah Clark.
It was a wise move.
Clark made 11 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 points to lead the Pirates to the title-clinching victory.
“We had a good lead and we slacked up taking care of the ball when we did have the lead, but luckily we had the cushion,” Smith said. “At the end we took care of the basketball and were able to put the ball in the basket at the free throw line.
“The last time we played them is was an issue at the free throw line and it was a big factor in us losing that game.”
On Thursday, Clark made her trips the line count.
Corinth Holders was up by five points (67-62) with a minute left after a bucket by Gaulden. Triton got a pair of free throws to cut the margin to 67-64. From that point, all of the Pirates’ point came from Clark at the line.
Clark made six of eight free throws in the final 47 seconds to seal the victory, including three of four at the line in the final 15 seconds.
Junior Maddy Gladwell had 19 points and senior Khadijah Neal added 17 for Corinth Holders.
Triton (13-10, 6-4) was led by Tarica Worney with 22 points and Kadizah Glauden with 11.
“The girls played well,” Triton coach Keith Howard said. “It was just a tough, hard game. We had two crucial turnovers at the end of the game and we had to foul and they were hitting their free throws.”
Triton will be seeded third in the conference tournament.
Corinth Holders has six seniors on its roster and the experience showed this season, Smith said.
“They matured as a team this year,” Smith said. “They started playing a lot better together, becoming more consistent offensively, defensively. We are continuing to get to places where we know that things can get better, especially pushing forward in the conference tournament and going into the state playoffs.
“We are going to do whatever we can to continue (to play well) and push as hard as we can to go as far as we can (in the playoffs).”
And the Pirates will do it as champions. After a five-year climb to the top.
Cleveland 69, Western Harnett 53: So will the Rams, who earned their share of the Two Rivers 3A title with a come-from-behind win over the Eagles. Cleveland scored just four first-quarter points but came back with a 20-point second quarter to take a halftime lead.
The Rams finished the contest with a 24-point output in the fourth quarter.
Myrayna Watkins (17), Amber Scott (16) and Alliyah Sands (12) all scored a dozen or more points for the Rams who won their school girls record 19th game of the season.
Smithfield-Selma 63, South Johnston 42: The Smithfield-Selma girls’ basketball team used a team effort to down South Johnston and the Trojans’ Anna Webster.
Webster posted 27 points to lead all scorers but the Spartans enjoyed the luxury of having four players with at least eight points.
Dannya Tavarez led Smithfield-Selma (9-13, 5-5) with 20 points, including 4-of-7 from three-point range to help the Spartans secure a tie for fourth place in the Two Rivers 3A Conference. South, also 4-6 in the conference, got the No. 4 seed for the conference tournament by virtue of its win over Corinth Holders.
Freshman Logan Lee poured in 13 points, Diamond Blackston contributed 10 points and Parker Watson added eight.
The Trojans fell behind double digits early, trailing 10-0 just three minutes into the first quarter. McKinley Johnson and Sarah Pierce each added five points for South Johnston (14-9, 4-6).
D. Clay Best and Michael Held contributed.