Kestrel Heights overcame a rocky start on Saturday but came way with a 63-53 win over Williamston’s Riverside High in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A East final at Methodist University. The win sends the Hawks into next week’s state championship game where they will play the West champion at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
Senior point guard Javier Rogers led Kestrel Heights with 21 points, which won its fifth straight since losing its only game of the season in the North Central Athletic Conference tournament finals. The Hawks (31-1) opened the season with 26 straight wins and now are on another winning streak.
Kestrel Heights coach Lenell Wallace could barely contain his joy after the game, especially after the way the day started for the Hawks.
After arriving for the game, he discovered that their uniforms weren’t on the bus and apparently had been left back at the school.
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“They weren’t on the bus, and I’m not sure but we made a plan,” Wallace said. “I told the guys, ‘Hey, we might not have the uniforms, but we’ve got the guys who go in those uniforms. No matter what we wear, we’re going to be good.’ But it is a fantastic feeling to know we’re playing for a state title. We’ve talked about it a long time, since we lost to South Creek last year. We came back with an agenda.”
Luckily, enough players from Kestrel Heights had their practice gear still packed from their early morning walk-through that they could suit up for the game.
It was a slog for both teams at the outset, though.
The first period saw only one field goal apiece by both teams as each struggled to find their range. Kestrel Heights went 1-for-10 from the floor, while Riverside was 1-for-13.
The scoreboard showed Kestrel Heights holding a 6-5 lead after the first eight minutes, which was a lot fewer points than the teams are accustomed to scoring. Both teams averaged in the 70s this season.
“If we start slow, we never panic,” Wallace said. “It’s happened before.”
Riverside found a little better rhythm in the second quarter and used it to take a 22-19 advantage at the intermission.
“We took their best shot in the first half,” Wallace said. “But we knew we hadn’t played our best basketball.”
Devon Oritz, who scored 15 points, provided Kestrel Heights with enough of an offensive spark with his drives to the basket to keep the Hawks in the game. He also led the Hawks with four assists.
“I feel like I am quick on my first step,” Ortiz said. “I was able to get inside and shoot or kick it out to my shooters.”
Kestrel Heights opened the third period with a 13-3 run to seize control of the contest. Marcotis Hall put the Hawks ahead for good with a shot in the lane that made it 27-25, and Rogers punctuated the run with a 3 from the top of the key that made it 32-25 with 4:12 left in the third. He later hit a 3 at the end of the quarter that pushed the Hawks’ lead to 39-31.
“Once I hit the buzzer-better, our confidence just went up,” Rogers said.
Kestrel Heights’ hot shooting carried over into the fourth quarter as Jayvis Harvey and Ortiz made 3s and Marcotis Hall added a jumper from the right baseline to give the Hawks a 47-33 lead.
Kestrel Heights shot 50 percent in the second half (12-of-24) and was 4-of-8 from behind the arc, which was a marked improvement over the first half when it was 6-of-23 (26.1 percent).
Riverside was led by Markel Freeman as he almost recorded a double-double in the first half for the Knights, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds, including four on the offensive end. He finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds.