Raleigh Christian threw up a road block that has prevented Friendship Christian from running away with the N.C. Christian Schools Association District 3 race, after all.
The impediment was a trapping defense that the height-challenged Eagles extended from half court to full-court pressure in the fourth quarter. The result was a 52-40 comeback win that handed Friendship Christian its first league loss Thursday night at the Raleigh Christian gym.
“Everybody is about the same height on our team, but that makes us interchangeable,” Raleigh Christian coach Stephen Hayes said. “We have to play that way (pressing) to win. We have to beat teams to the spot. If we play passively, teams will kill us inside.”
With the win, Raleigh Christian (10-3, 3-2) prevented Friendship Christian (9-4, 3-1) from opening up a three-game lead on the Eagles and two on second-place Hilltop Christian (10-4, 4-2).
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Raleigh Christian not only outscored Friendship Christian in the fourth quarter, the Eagles shutout the Falcons, 18-0.
Raleigh Christian turned the tables on how Friendship Christian started the third quarter with a 7-0 run for a 32-24 lead. Friendship beat Raleigh Christian’s press with some passes over the top for a 32-24 lead less than two minutes into the third.
But RCA adjusted and closed the third-quarter deficit to 34-30 before pitching fourth-period shutout. Falcons coach Evan Brondyke’s young team didn’t respond to the pressure defense.
The Falcons committed turnovers that Raleigh Christian converted into easy layups. And when Friendship Christian did get the ball across the half-court line, they missed shots under tight defense.
“They’re a good team and they played really tough defense on us in the second half,” Brondyke said. “We’re still a young team, so we’ll learn from this. We’re still learning and getting better.”
Brandon Soemer scored 12 points and Phillip Perry 10 for the Falcons.
A lot of coaches might have been kicking chairs after such a fourth quarter, but Brondyke not only praised Raleigh Christian’s effort, he straightened out the chairs on the visitors’ bench before he left the gym.
“We try to leave a place better than we found it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
Another result of Raleigh Christian’s interchangeable lineup was Lavelle Gilchrist came off the bench to lead the Falcons with 14 points. He scored six points in the second quarter and six in the fourth. Woody Chappell added 12 points and Dorian Crenshaw nine.
Hayes told his players entering Thursday’s game they were still in the league race despite having fallen to 2-2 in league play.
“We’re starting to settle into a good rotation,” he said. “We can still win the league, but we have to do it one game at a time.”