Going into halftime of the first round of this year’s HighschoolOT.com Holiday Invitational, Mariah Partin was feeling down.
The Southeast Raleigh guard found herself in foul trouble. Even after the break, she picked up yet another foul.
“Once I got my first shot off, I was like, ‘OK, it’s working out,’ ” Partin said of her second-half burst.
In Southeast Raleigh’s 55-45 win over Durham Riverside on Saturday, the day after Christmas at Cary Academy, Partin scored 14 of her game-best 19 points in the final quarter. The Bulldogs’ win knocked off the defending tournament champion.
Never miss a local story.
The win was only the start of a surge that elevated the Bulldogs to an invitational championship game, preserving their undefeated season. They faced Durham Hillside in the final on Wednesday at host Broughton High School.
But Partin had another reason for her low spirits. Her former classmate Kari Watson was shot and killed in Raleigh on Dec. 23. Watson was home from Winston-Salem State University for the winter break.
Partin and the Bulldogs, especially the seniors who were closer to the 2015 graduate, decided this season they would play for Watson, an avid supporter of the Southeast Raleigh girls’ basketball program.
“She was actually at our Knightdale game last week,” Partin recalled. “Seeing her there and seeing her in the stands and then not seeing her, it’s like, we’re going to give it all to her.”
Partin said the crowd plays a meaningful role in the Bulldogs’ success. They tend to feed off its energy.
The 5-foot-6 guard said she tries to open her scoring each game with a 3-pointer to rile up the supporters. Against Riverside, she hit three 3-pointers.
“Everybody gets hyped,” Partin said. “Once I hit a 3 (against Riverside), everybody got really happy. That was motivation. The crowd just kept us on our back. Once the crowd gets on our side, we start to get momentum and our bench is always a big support.”
Partin began playing basketball when she was 5. She said her cousin, Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker, inspired her to keep playing.
She also observed her improvement through the years.
“When I work out, I kept noticing ‘Oh, I’m getting better at this. Maybe this will take me to college. Maybe I can get a free ride for education,’ ” Partin said. “I was always watching (basketball) if I wasn’t playing.
“I fell in love with it at a young age.”
Partin, who said she’s already been accepted into a few colleges, hopes she can land a basketball scholarship.
She’s played with the Bulldogs four years and was part of the consecutive state runner-up teams as a sophomore and junior.
“Almost every day, I think about it: I really want a ring this year,” Partin said. “We were there back-to-back and we came up short twice. We have a lot of doubters out here. Now, we’re just trying to get everybody on the same page, play one game at a time, eventually get to a state championship – and win it this year.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
School: Southeast Raleigh
Sport / Position: Baskteball / Guard
Fun fact: Likes to read autobiographies and watch documentaries about content she doens’t learn in school