The Southern Lee parking lot overflowed and cars were parked alongside the road in a fashion resembling Friday night football. A newcomer to the campus asked if something else was going on besides the basketball game.
“Nope – rivalry game,” a security guard at the front door said casually.
Welcome to a crosstown basketball rivalry, Sanford style: Lee County at Southern Lee.
The visiting Lee County girls won the opener of the double-header with a 53-43 victory Wednesday night at the Cavaliers’ gym, but the Southern Lee boys salvaged a split in the nightcap with a 55-36 victory.
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The early arriving crowd provided the girls a rare treat to play a regular season capacity crowd. Lee County’s Amoria Neal-Tysor rewarded the early birds with scoring sow of 28 points.
“It’s exciting to play before a big crowd like that,” Neal-Tysor said. “It gave us something to fight for.”
Southern Lee’s boys had the home-court crowd behind them and patiently found holes in the Lee County’s zone defense to lead from start to finish.
“We didn’t want to make it too much of a rivalry game,” said sophomore guard Kahil Ridges, who led the Cavaliers’ balanced scoring with 15 points. “We tried to remain calm and be patient with our offense.”
It was first meeting between the rivals until they play again on Feb. 9 in the regular-season finale.
Lee County improved to only 5-10 overall, but the Yellow Jackets are still in the Cape Fear Valley Conference race in second place with a 4-2 mark. Southern Lee dropped 3-14 and 1-5.
“We played a tough non-conference schedule, and it shows in our overall record,” Lee County coach Jenee Peace said. “But it has paid off for us in conference play.”
Lee County jumped out to 12-2 lead at the end of the first quarter before Southern Lee began to convert turnovers into points. The Cavaliers took their only lead at 24-22 lead midway through the third quarter on an offensive rebound basket by Hannah Heck.
“We have a young team and we didn’t take care of the ball,” Neal-Tysor said of the second and third quarters.
Or as Peace put it: “We have some young players and some freshmen that were playing in this rivalry game for the first time. We tried to prepare them for it, but when the lights went on and they saw the crowd it was different for them. We started to play too fast.”
Neal-Tysor came out in the fourth quarter hitting two three-point field goals to spark a 14-2 run for a 45-32 lead. But she had the play a cheerleader role for the final three minutes after she fouled out.
Two free throws each from Olivia Norris and Savannah Brown were enough to hold off the Cavs.
Heck was one of three players to lead Southern Lee in scoring with 10 points each along with Cheyene Ingram and Alexcya Squalls.
Southern Lee remained unbeaten in Cape Fear Valley play as the Yellow Jackets improved to 12-5 overall and 6-0 in league play.
“We looked at this game as another step to put up a championship banner,” said Ridges.
Lee County (6-10, 3-3) attempted to slow down the game with a zone defense, but Southern Lee countered by working the ball around without forcing shots. The Cavs managed a 20-12 lead by halftime.
But midway through the third quarter, Southern Lee’s patience with the ball led to a 31-17 lead. That forced the Yellow Jackets to come out of their zone into man-to-man defense, but Southern Lee’s advantage switched from patience to quickness.
“We’re a small team, so we have to rely on our quickness,” Ridges said. “We spread the out and we try to take it to them.”
Joining Ridges in double figures were Darius Sellers with 12 points and Nate Thompson with 10.
Trey North was Lee County’s only player in double figures with 18 points.