Neuse Christian Academy’s girls held off a late rally by Victory Christian Thursday to advance, 59-56, to the semi-final round of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A state basketball tournament.
The Neuse Christian boys couldn’t hold a lead and lost to Cape Fear Christian Academy 80-78 as the Eagles’ Quentin Jackson swished an outside jumper as time ran out to end the game.
The No. 3 Lions girls (21-6) will face second-seeded Trinity (22-5) Friday at 7 p.m. at Cary Academy. The winner will advance to the state title game, which will be hosted by Ravenscroft on Saturday morning.
The Lions boys, who were seeded sixth, end the season 19-13 with four of the losses at the hands of Cape Fear, which is 23-11 and seeded third.
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Coach Shane Wilder’s girls squad led the whole way but never could put away the Kings from Charlotte.
The Lions led 18-7 early, 34-28 at halftime, and 48-39 entering the final period. But with Victory Christian junior post player Lilian Izundu grabbing practically every rebound down the stretch, the Kings cut a 10-point lead to one with just 18 seconds to play. Then with 12 seconds left, Lions sophomore Izabella Leite, who scored 28 in the win, hit a pair of free throws for the final margin, and Victory missed a pair of free throws with two seconds left in the game.
Leite and junior Maria Albiero (22 points) are a pair of transfers from Brazil who joined the team this year and had a huge impact.
“Their ball-handling and scoring has been tremendous,” Wilder said. “Our other players had to learn to play with them.”
They both average close to 20 points, while Mack Wilder averages 12.
“While our shooting was cold, our defense kept us in the game and all the girls who played, played well,” coach Wilder said. “Our post players, Calli Wallace (11 rebounds) and Kaitlyn Martin, played hard and Hannah Costenbader came off the bench and hit a big free throw late in the game.”
Mack Wilder, the team’s defensive leader, also pulled 8 rebounds.
“With their tall girl, we tried to clam up the middle, but at times we lost it,” Albiero said. “But as Izabelle has said, to win the tournament we have to take it step by step and this is the first step. We really want to win.”
Coach Wilder also said his team wore white wristbands in tribute to the father of boys player Matt Kalaf, who passed away last Friday.
Kalaf, a 6-foot-7 senior who is committed to play at Division II Urbana (Ohio) hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter as the Lions overcame a slow start. They fell behind by 10 in the first quarter, but led 40-38 at halftime. Neuse led 59-58 entering the final period, but Cape Fear took the lead early in the fourth period and held it until Kalaf hit a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left to tie the score at 78-78.
Cape Fear then ran down the clock and Jackson took the final shot to win the game.
Junior Kaleb Hunter led the Lions with 28, followed by junior D.J. Myers (21), junior Tre Doughty (12), and Kalaf (11).
After Jackson’s 27, Michael Melvin scored 21 and Henry Odunze added 19. All but two of the Eagles’ points were scored by seniors.
“They beat us four times this year,” Neuse coach Scottie Richardson said. “They eliminated us in the conference tournament and now in the state tournament. I’ll be glad to see them graduate. But give Cape Feat a lot of credit, hats off to coach Dwight Miller and his team.”