For the past five years, Louisburg High School has played its scheduled home basketball contests against Franklin County rivals Bunn and Franklinton a few blocks down North Main Street at Taylor Center on the campus of Louisburg College.
“It gives our kids an opportunity to play in a next-level atmosphere,” said Louisburg girls coach Chris Baker. “It would be nice to be on our home court as opposed to a neutral site, but this allows more fans to be able to see the games and enjoy them. It is just a more comfortable situation.”
Taylor Center also provides a more beneficial revenue stream for Louisburg during its two most-attended outings of the season. The Louisburg gymnasium officially seats 700 spectators, but the school usually sells much fewer tickets than that number due to safety reasons. Taylor Center, meanwhile, has a capacity of over 1,000 – and was almost full for Friday’s meeting between Louisburg and Franklinton.
But not everyone at Louisburg High School is thrilled with the arrangement – most notably boys coach Michael Sheldon, who played a key role earlier this week in trying to have Friday’s event moved back to campus. The change was announced, but was rescinded on the same day.
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While it was considered an away game for Franklinton, the Red Rams felt right at home at Taylor Center in securing a varsity sweep.
Franklinton’s boys took an early lead and was in control the rest of the way as part of an 80-61 victory in the first meeting of the season between the county foes.
In girls’ action, the Red Rams, who were winless coming in, also took charge in the beginning before holding off a late threat to win 28-21 over the previously unbeaten Warriors.
Louisburg’s first Taylor Center foray was a success last week as the Warriors rolled past Bunn, but they couldn’t replicate that feat Friday against a deep, talented and mulit-faceted club from Franklinton (5-1).
The Red Rams, despite committing 18 fouls in the opening half alone, led 42-27 heading into the break as Franklinton attacked – and defended – from several different effective angles.
Five Franklinton players reached double figures in scoring, led by Delton Davis and Semaj McCowan with 14 markers apiece. Chipping in with 10 points each were Branson Capps, Smith Gupton and Jaquan Owens.
The Red Rams drained six 3-pointers and also controlled the transition game with their speed and seemingly endless depth possibilities.
“We’ve got a lot of experience coming back, and that really helps,” said Franklinton head coach Terrence Horne. “We have guys who have been with us for several years, so they know what to expect. We feel like if (opponents) try to stop one player, we have other options who can step up. When we have everyone going, we can be hard to guard.”
Franklinton’s 2015-16 campaign ended in disappointment with a loss to Southern Vance in the finals of the Northern Carolina Conference Tournament – and an ensuing setback in the first round of the 2A playoffs.
“That definitely left a bad taste in our mouths,” said Gupton, a senior point guard. “We have been using that for motivation because we don’t want this year to end like that. I think we are doing pretty well so far.”
Louisburg (1-3) received a combined 40 points from Andreas Wilson (24) and Quamon Person (16), but the Warriors couldn’t recover from an early 15-5 deficit.
While Sheldon acknowledged Franklinton’s strong play, he would have liked an opportunity to tangle with the Red Rams on his home court.
“Unfortunately, we are the only school in (Franklin County) that has to play its two biggest home games at a neutral site,” Sheldon said. “Other than that, Franklinton has a lot of talent and Coach Horne is doing a heck of a job with that group.”
The girls contest didn’t live up to the pre-game numbers, as Louisburg entered the showdown with an unblemished mark, while Franklinton had yet to pick up a victory this winter for 41-year head coach Lester Wilder.
But Wilder’s club used a furious full-court pressure defense along with a size advantage to built a substantial early cushion.
The Red Rams (1-5) surged ahead 14-2 after one quarter, and Louisburg (3-1) wouldn’t even convert a field goal until Taylor Ferguson nailed a jumper in the opening minute of the third quarter.
But despite being down by as many as 17 points, the Warriors would claw back to make things interesting before Franklinton held on down the stretch.
“We won, but I was disappointed in how we played,’’ Wilder said. “We aren’t playing to the level we are capable of. We probably played better in the games we lost than we did in this one.’’
Bianca Perry paced Franklinton in scoring with seven points, followed by Bria Gaither and Chanel Thomas with five tallies apiece.
Louisburg’s Ferguson was the game’s leading scorer with eight markers, but her club was hindered by a 13-of-32 effort from the free-throw line.
The Warriors pressed their way toward a possible comeback and forced several turnovers, but could only get as close as six points at 27-21 in the final two minutes.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Baker said. “We struggled with their pressure defense out of the gate, and we couldn’t score enough to get into our press. We got our defense going in the second half, but we missed some opportunities to capitalize and make the game closer.”
Franklinton will host the rematch between the schools on Dec. 19.