Southeast Raleigh’s girls are headed back to the 4A Eastern Regionals after a 56-52 victory over Durham Hillside on Tuesday night.
It will be a bigger stage at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, but the games will not feel any different than what the Bulldogs have faced the past two rounds.
“The competition we’ve seen the last two games with East Wake and Hillside, I feel like we’ve been playing the regionals for two rounds already,” said Southeast Raleigh coach Nicole Sampson Meyers. “Because those two are regional-quality teams. And that experience can’t do anything but help us the rest of the week.”
Southeast Raleigh (24-3) is two wins away from a return trip to the state championship game. The Bulldogs will play Friday in a regional semifinal.
Hillside, which took a one-point loss to Southeast Raleigh in last year’s Eastern Regional championship game and a one-point loss to the Bulldogs this season, held a 4-1 lead but trailed nearly the entire rest of the game after a four-plus-minute scoreless streak to end the first quarter.
The Hornets (21-4) finally finished a run back into the lead when senior Justine Lyon scored off of an inbounds pass from Elisia Grissett with 39 seconds to play for a 52-51 lead.
Southeast Raleigh charged right down the court with senior Jade Phillips driving to the basket, drawing the defense and dishing to freshman Jada McMillian for a 53-52 Bulldogs lead with 21 seconds left.
The pressure man-to-man defense of Southeast Raleigh forced a turnover on the next possession and free throws pushed the lead to four points with 3.2 seconds left.
“We showed the same fight and determination we had against East Wake down the stretch,” Meyers said. “We just found ways to get it done. We got stops when we had to have them. I was proud of our composure.”
Phillips, a Syracuse recruit, had 20 points to lead the Bulldogs, McMillian had 11 and Kia Abrams 10.
The Bulldogs worked their way to leads of six, five, seven and nine at various points during the second half, only to see Hillside close within a point or tie the score. The seven-point lead was created when N.C. State recruit Amber Richardson scored six points during the final eight-tenths of a second in the third quarter. Richardson converted a three-point play with eight-tenths of a second left and then sank in a 3-point shot at the buzzer after Hillside had thrown the inbounds pass away.
“It’s kind of bad to say, but that’s what we do,” Richardson said. “We get leads, let teams come back on us and then work hard and come up with an answer. We just need to do a better job of keeping the same approach when we’ve got a lead.”
Southeast Raleigh led 48-39 with 4 minutes, 27 seconds to play before the Hornets reeled off a 13-5 run to go ahead on Lyon’s basket.
Grissett had a game-high 22 points for Hillside, and Lyon contributed 15.
After McMillian missed a the second of two free throws with 5.5 seconds left leaving Southeast Raleigh ahead 54-52, Phillips tipped the rebound to Richardson, who grabbed the ball and forced another Hillside foul. She made both free throws for a four-point lead.
“We came together and really executed when we needed it,” Phillips said. “We stuck to the plan that coach gave us. Instead of settling for jump shots, we drove to the basket down the stretch and got the baskets.”