Hillside’s girls and Northern Durham’s boys both fought off upset bids to take home a PAC-6 4A basketball tournament championship from Friday night’s doubleheader at Riverside’s gym.
Hillside’s 22-game winning streak appeared in jeopardy when Riverside opened with a six-point halftime lead, but the No. 2-ranked Hornets (24-1) pulled away for a 63-49 victory over No. 11 Riverside (20-6) in a game that was closer than the final score indicates.
Northern Durham, ranked No. 11, ended unranked Cardinal Gibbons’ bid for a third straight upset as the Knights held on for 54-45 victory.
Hillside and Riverside both advance to the N.C. High School Association 4A playoffs as the top two teams in the conference in the regular season as well as the tournament
Cardinal Gibbons was the fifth seed and needed to win the tournament title to earn a playoff bid.
Hillside (24-1) made itself at home at the Riverside gym in more ways than one to claim its 23rd straight victory. With the No. 1 seed as the regular-season champions, the Hornets were officially the home team with their points listed under “HOME” on the Riverside scoreboard.
That caused confusion among late-arriving fans, especially with Riverside finishing the final two minutes of the second quarter with a 9-2 run for a 35-29 halftime advantage.
But Hillside’s Jada Morgan, who was scoreless in the first half, sparked the second half comeback. She hit two 3-point field goals to score eight points in the third quarter and finish the night with 10 points.
“I knew I had to help my team and step up,” Morgan said.
Her first 3-pointer trimmed Riverside’s lead to 45-39 and her second one gave the Hornets a 46-45 advantage. Hillside outscored Riverside 20-10 in the third period for a 49-45 lead entering the final eight minutes.
Morgan said the scare might have been good for the Hornets to re-focus before the state playoffs.
“I feel like we have been so used to winning we needed this,” she said. “It shows us we can beat if we don’t play our best.”
Hillside featured balanced scoring. Elisia Grissett scored 15 points, Jekelbi Lewis 11 and Jessica Wright and Ja’Mia Johnson nine each.
Riverside’s Ashauntee Nelson said her team was confident.
“We jumped out and played defense in the first half,” Nelson said. “That was exciting. We have to keep playing hard. I believe in my team.”
Northern (20-6) didn’t pull away until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Knights led only 21-19 at halftime and 35-33 after three periods. Gibbons (10-16) briefly took a 42-41 lead on a 3-point field goal from Joe Fitzgerald.
But Northern’s Jalen Johnson followed with a driving layup and then hit the a free throw on the next possession for a 44-42 lead the Knights never relinquished.
Johnson and Emmett Tilley led Northern with 13 points each as eight players scored for the Knights.
Scottie O’Korn led Gibbons with 15 points and Jake Reid added 11.