Cleveland opened the second half of its NCHSAA 3A girls basketball first round playoff game Saturday with the fire that helped the Rams roll to 19 wins in the regular season and a share of the Two Rivers 3A Conference championship.
Down 14, the Rams cut Eastern Alamance’s lead to three points with a 10-0 run. But the Eagles had the finishing power, capitalizing on an intentional foul called on Cleveland late, to grab a 56-46 victory.
Cleveland finished its season with a 19-6 mark.
Down 41-28 midway of the third quarter, the Rams took advantage when Eastern Alamance senior point guard Kerry Lee picked up her fourth foul and was forced to leave the floor.
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Cleveland scored the game’s next 10 points to get within 41-38 with 26 seconds left in the quarter. The Rams had a look at a 3-pointer that could have tied the score on its last possession of the quarter but it rimmed out.
“We picked up our offense and got some steals on their end,” said Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said of the run. “We got right where we needed to be.”
The Rams failed to score on their next seven possessions allowing the Eagles to run the lead back up to nine points.
Cleveland did cut the lead to 50-46 on a Miranda Hinton basket with 1:19 to play, but they were forced to foul in the final minute. The first of those fouls was ruled intentional, leading to a three-point possession for the Eagles and an insurmountable 56-46 lead with just 29 seconds left.
The 19 victories Cleveland posted this season were a record for the five-year-old school.
“This is the best year we’ve had: conference championship, the highest win total (19) in school history,” Danehower said. “You always want to do better in the playoffs every year, no matter how far you advance, so it’s tough to lose in the first round.
“And we’re losing some valuable seniors but we do have a lot of key players coming back.”
The Rams lose five seniors to graduation: Brittany Preston, Kurumi Tomori, Asha Mitchell, Alliyah Sands and Skyler Allen.
Eastern Alamance (16-9) jumped out to a quick 10-4 lead with senior point guard Kerry Lee finding post standout Deja Dunn open for the first two baskets of the game, then setting up two open jump shots from Kaneya Chambers.
Cleveland did cut the lead to 10-9 with the help of a 3-pointer from Brittany Preston, but the Eagles pulled ahead 16-11 late in the quarter.
“They took it to our zone early,” Danehower said. “We didn’t move well and ended up getting a lot of our post players in foul trouble. We adjusted a little and had better results in the second quarter.”
Cleveland also got its offense more in sync in the second frame, but solid ball movement and high-percentage shots didn’t alter the scoreboard as much as it normally would. Shot after shot — open 3-pointers and near gimmies in the paint — bounced off of the rim and avoided the bottom of the net. The Rams went 6-for-17 (35 percent) from the field in the second quarter.
“We missed some shots that we normally make,” Danehower said. “Then we made some mistakes defensively and that allowed them to expand the lead again before the half.”
Eastern Alamance scored on three of its last four possessions of the first half to push the lead back to 35-21.