As the turkey spaghetti (seasoned with sugar oddly enough, at the request of Southeast Raleigh’s players), salad and garlic bread flowed at Nicole Meyers’ house hours before Saturday’s 4A girls basketball eastern regional championship game, the Southeast Raleigh coach pondered her talk to her team.
Meyers was surprisingly relaxed. She wanted her team to be.
“I told them that our season has been a series of do overs from our experiences last year,” Meyers said. “And I told them that everybody doesn’t get that opportunity. We have it. We needed to relish it.”
Southeast Raleigh (26-2) did just that, rallying from a nine-point, second-half deficit to top Durham Hillside 58-57 and advance to next Saturday’s state championship game at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.
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Junior Jade Phillips, who helped spark a 15-0 Bulldogs’ scoring run in the third quarter, was named the regional MVP. She finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds on the night and totaled 39 points and 20 rebounds in the two regional games.
Hillside (24-6) led 53-50 with two minutes and 35 seconds to play when Justine Lyon banked in a shot after an offensive rebound.
Southeast, which lost last year’s regional final to eventual state champion Millbrook, turned up the defensive pressure at that point, registering steals on four consecutive Hornet possessions. Phillips had two, while Tiffany McCarter and Amber Richardson picked up one each.
“We started anticipating their passes better,” McCarter said. “In the first half, they were just killing us.”
In the huddle during the game’s final time out, Meyers played the do-over card one final time, reminding senior point guard Alexus Hicks they’d been in a similar situation down the stretch against Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview early in the season. The Bulldogs suffered their first loss this season that night (both of their losses this season have come against out-of-state teams).
“We learned from that,” Meyers said. “We didn’t falter. We had that will and determination to win (tonight).”
Hicks hit three of four free throws in the final 25.1 seconds, putting Southeast up 58-55. Lyon drove in an attempt to cut the lead to one with 10 seconds left but the shot missed the mark. Teammate Tykyrah Williams stole the ball, dribbled toward the basket and hit a running 17-footer with two seconds left.
Hillside players said after the game they mistakenly thought the shot had tied the game.
Out of time outs, Hillside could only watch its season slip away as Southeast Raleigh celebrated on a court it had gone away from so disappointed a year ago.
“If you win a championship, you’re going to have to win close games where one or two things can make the difference,” said Hillside coach Ovester Grays. “There are five things we concentrate on: rebounding, defense, easy baskets, taking care of the ball and communication. I thought there were times where we didn’t communicate like we needed to and that’s how you end up with 18 turnovers.”
Lyon finished with 24 points for the Hornets, who beat four conference champions in the playoffs. Zuri White had 14 rebounds and eight points before fouling out.
McCarter, who was on the all-tournament team with Richardson, Phillips, White, Lyon and Millbrook’s Dazia Powell, finished with 17 for Southeast.