Neuse Christian Academy could not have given any more effort Friday night, but the Lions still came up just short in the semifinals of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association girls 1A state tournament, falling 68-63 to defending state champion Trinity Christian School of Fayetteville.
Neuse, seeded third in the tournament, battled foul trouble and the talented second-seeded Crusaders with a very young, but also very close team. The lone senior is Rebeka Weaver, a key substitute in the post.
“There's a lot of love between these players, like a family,” Neuse coach Shane Wilder said. “But we'll be back here next year. In this game, Trinity made a couple of great plays, timely plays, at the end.”
The fourth quarter went back and forth. Neuse took the lead for the final time, 61-60, on a follow shot by Kaitlyn Martin with 47 seconds to play. But Crusaders freshman Alex Scruggs (28) points answered 10 seconds later with a drive and free throw for a 63-61 lead that Trinity never lost.
Neuse was led again by its pair of transfers from Brazil, sophomore Izabella Liete (21) and junior Maria Albiero (20). Sophomore Cali Wallace scored 10, but missed most of the second half after fouling out. Albiero and Liete both picked up their fourth fouls early in the fourth quarter.
“We missed Cali on the boards, having her down the stretch would have been huge,” Wilder said. “But Hannah Costenbader and Kaitlyn Martin did a good job rotating in there and Rebeka Weaver and Anna Giammarino came in with some good minutes. Also, Mack Wilder had to play low, too. The foul trouble had us moving people around.
“Of course Izabella and Maria played great. They always give everything they've got out there.”
Neuse ended the seaon playing its best, including a win over Northwood Temple Academy in the conference tournament. Northwood Temple, of Fayetteville, is the top seed and will play Trinity for the state title at 10 a.m. Saturday morning at Ravenscroft.