The seniors on Chapel Hill’s girls basketball team can quickly rattle off all of the reasons why experience matters once you reach the regional level in the NCHSAA playoffs. They’ve been here four times after all.
“It’s a whole different ball game,” said Tigers senior Raziyah Farrington. “You can’t look at the backboard too much when you’re shooting. You have to focus on the rim because the background is nothing like it is in a high school gym. You can still fit two basketballs through the rim at the same time; you have to remember that.
“The floor’s different too. You have to tell players who haven’t been here before how the ball bounces.”
Chapel Hill showed just how much that experience mattered in Friday’s 3A regional semifinal against previously unbeaten Eastern Wayne (26-1). The Tigers scored 13 of the game’s final 14 points for a 57-47 victory at the Crown Coliseum and move a game closer to winning their second consecutive state championship.
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It was the 112th time Chapel Hill has won in its last 120 games.
Senior co-captain Tamia Eatmon scored a career-high 22 points, including six at the free throw line in the final 62 seconds, to lead the Tigers (23-2) into a matchup against either Rockingham County or Eastern Alamance at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Farrington added 20 points and her three-point play after the last of the Warriors’ 36 turnovers on the night was the capper on a championship quality-closing job by the Tigers.
“Champions always find a way to get back in the game and finish, and they did it,” said Eastern Wayne coach Philemon Gray of Chapel Hill.
The Warriors went up 46-44 with 2:46 to play on a 3-pointer by Tianna Christopher, but it was their last field goal of the night, as the pressure created by the Tigers’ full-court press grew to its highest point in the game’s final minutes.
“We knew that they hadn’t seen much pressure because of the quickness their ball handlers,” said Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris. “Not many teams that play us are used to that level of pressure.”
The Tigers survived one of the worst quarters they’ve played in the past four seasons, scoring just four points, all at the free throw line. But Eastern couldn’t take advantage of an uncharacteristic 14 Tiger turnovers in the first and led just 25-21 at the half.
Chapel Hill had just six second-half turnovers.
“The team that settles down quickest is going to win,” Eatmon said.
Eastern Wayne also lost both Jasmine Covington — whose drives had hurt the Tigers — and starting forward Shontel Monk to fouls in the final two minutes. Covington had 14 points and 10 rebounds on the night.
Eastern Wayne’s 6-foot-3 Naheria Hamilton came in averaging nine blocked shots a game. She had just four against the Tigers.