Veteran East Chapel Hill head coach Ray Hartsfield knows rivalry games, like the one Friday between his Wildcats and Chapel Hill, are fraught with peril.
“This game always worries me,” Hartsfield said. “You’re playing in front of your friends and your neighbors and your classmates. Sometimes that energy in the stands and on the court makes kids lose their discipline.”
Hartsfield also couldn’t be sure before the game just how his players would react to pressure inside the Tigers’ gym.
Chapel Hill had one game under its belt – albeit a loss at Northern Durham – while the Wildcats had yet to play a varsity game. Their intended season-opener, with Wilson Hunt, was delayed Tuesday as a courtesy to the Warriors, whose lineup included several football players still involved in the state playoffs.
The Wildcats committed 18 turnovers Friday in an up-tempo game at Chapel Hill, helping the Tigers stay close most of the way before East Chapel Hill pulled out a 53-48 win.
“We have to take better care of the basketball; 18 turnovers in one game is a lot,” Hartsfield said.
Chapel Hill (0-2) led briefly in the first half, the last time at 13-11 after a fadeaway jumper by Elijah Haynes at the start of the second quarter. Carter Collins answered with two fadeways in a quick 6-0 run that put East Chapel Hill (1-0) back in front for good.
Chapel Hill was as close as 35-33 on a basket from the paint by Andrew Cook with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, but nine second-half turnovers did in the Tigers, who weren’t helped by 8-for-23 shooting in the final 15 minutes.
Collins led all scorers with 23 points. East also got some timely baskets from Kevin Gilland (9 points), Hartsfield noted, and three blocks by 6-8 Clay Watkins, who also forced three Chapel Hill turnovers in the second half.
Max Connolly, who scored seven points in the fourth quarter and finished with 14, was the only Chapel Hill player with double-digit points.
Chapel Hill girls win second straight
Chapel Hill girls coach Sherry Norris also fretted some about her young team, which graduated seven players off last year’s state 3A finalist. That’s why she started some of her most experienced players available: seniors Autumn West, Mariah Jacobs, Elizabeth McBurney and Joy Stouffer, and junior Ti’Mia Chaplin.
“They know how to handle the emotions in a game like this,” Norris said.
Chapel Hill (2-0) started fast, using three early steals to spark an initial 8-0 run, and never trailed in the game. East Chapel Hill (0-1) tied the game at 28-28 on five straight points from Ali Cyr-Scully, and the Wildcats were within a basket three different times in the second half, but the Tigers’ defense held the ‘Cats in check.
Chapel Hill forced 10 Wildcat turnovers in the second half and held them to one field goal in a decisive stretch of 4 minutes, 31 seconds, as the Tigers pulled ahead 59-49.
West scored a game-high 23 points in little more than three quarters of play; she fouled out with 5 minutes, 2 seconds left in the game on a combined personal foul and technical foul as she went after a loose ball. Jacobs, with 12 points in the last 12:44 of the game, finished with 20 points.
“They scored a lot of wide-open baskets,” East Chapel Hill coach Michelle Wood said. “We’ve got to get our turnovers under control and play better defense.”
T.J. Johnson, who hit four 3-pointers, led East Chapel Hill with 22 points, while Cyr-Scully had 17.