It was Senior Night, first place in the Northern Carolina Conference boys basketball standings was at stake, and a retirement ceremony for one of the area’s most legendary girls coaches was all prepared.
What else could fans want from Thursday’s hoops showdown between backyard rivals South Granville at host Franklinton – long-time foes separated by just 15 miles of N.C. Highway 56?
How about a pair of buzzer-beating finishes as a cherry on top for what will be remembered as one of the most unforgettable nights in Franklinton’s tradition-rich basketball history?
In the final home game of Lester Wilder’s 41-year tenure as Franklinton’s girls skipper, the Red Rams sent him out in style with a 44-43 victory as senior post Chanel Thomas delivered a layup with less than one second remaining in the fourth quarter.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any better for our seniors or myself,” said Wilder, whose club improved to 7-12 overall and 5-6 in the NCC. “I’m not sure it can get any better than that.”
South Granville (12-8, 7-4) had broken a tie with a free throw from Olivia Dougherty with six seconds left, but her second attempt missed, and Franklinton quickly called time-out after getting the rebound.
The Red Rams executed Wilder’s set play to perfection as Meaghan Dohnert took the inbounds pass near midcourt before finding teammate Amber Rushing at the free-throw line. Rushing then lobbed the ball over a Vikings’ defender to Thomas, whose shot left her hand with 0.2 seconds remaining on the clock.
“It went exactly like we drew it up,” Thomas said. “It was almost like slow-motion. I couldn’t believe it. We knew we had to win this for coach Wilder. How it happened was amazing.”
Even South Granville coach Debbie Bell, knowing the circumstances surrounding the game, couldn’t help but wonder if the outcome was somehow pre-determined.
“I’ve known Lester for years,” said Bell, who played at East Carolina University in the 1970s. “He is great. ... It was (13-13) at halftime, and we should have had more points than that. We have been averaging over 50 points a game.”
The lead changed hands six times before Franklinton finally claimed the victory, thanks in part to 11 points from Bria Gaither and 10 points apiece from Thomas and Bianca Perry.
South Granville, which has been fighting the injury bug in recent weeks and was down two starters Thursday, received 18 points from Dougherty. Despite the loss, SG is still firmly in the No. 3 position in the NCC standings.
As electrifying as the girls finish was, the heroics were only beginning as Franklinton’s boys, trailing by 14 points at halftime, rallied to defeat the Vikings 67-65 in overtime to move into a first-place tie with SG atop the league with one week remaining.
The Red Rams (16-3, 10-1) were seconds away from a setback before senior guard Jerrail Brodie tied the score at 54-54 with a trifecta from the right corner with five ticks remaining in regulation.
In the extra session, Franklinton took the lead for good at 64-62 on an inside bucket from Jeremiah Edgerton at the 49-second mark. Delton Davis followed with a steal and layup 15 seconds later for the Red Rams, but the Vikings still had a chance in the end.
South Granville (17-4, 10-1) had a shot in the paint to tie the score at the horn, but the attempt bounced off the rim as Franklinton’s players and fans rushed the court in celebration.
“In the first half, we executed well and were fundamentally sound,” said South Granville head coach Jake Wohlfeil, whose club was ahead 34-20 at the break. “I tell the guys that when you miss free throws and turn the ball over, it will catch up to you, and it did. ... We had an 18-point lead Tuesday against Warren County and ended up winning by two points. We need to do a better job of not letting these games go down to the wire.’’
Four players scored in double figures for South Granville, led by Issiah McLean with 15 points. Davis (23) and Semaj McCowan (19) combined for 42 points to pace the Red Rams.