On paper, Leesville Road was supposed to be the underdog. On the court, it was anything but.
The 25th-seeded Pride trounced the eighth-seeded host Clayton 66-37 Tuesday in the first round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs. Clayton finished the season 21-7.
Leesville Road (15-12) advanced and will play Cap-8 Conference mate Heritage on Thursday.
“We play in one of if not the toughest league in North Carolina,” Pride coach Russ Frazier said. “So we were fairly prepared I would say. We’re not scared to play anyone.”
Leesville Road went 9-5 to finish fourth in its conference this year and entered Tuesday having lost four of the last six games. But the Pride showed their true potential beginning when Cap-8 co-player of the year Alex Hunter nailed a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer to give Leesville Road a 11-7 lead at the break.
Hunter’s shot ignited a 21-0 Pride run that stretched the lead to 29-7 late in the second. The lead swelled as high as 36 points in the fourth quarter.
“Our effort tonight just came through enthusiasm,” Frazier said. “Our guys were excited to play. They came out with their feet on fire and their hearts on fire.”
Freshman guard Jalen Benjamin showed no signs of intimidation in his first state playoff game, dissecting the Comet defense for a game-high 20 points and personally outscoring Clayton 15-14 in the second and third quarters.
“We were playing as a team, we were working (the ball) around, being patient with it, setting our offense,” Benjamin said. “All we had to do was pass it around, get our drive-kicks and we had open looks and made our layups.”
While everything seemed to fall in place for the Pride, everything seemed to fall apart for the Comets.
Clayton managed just four field goals in the first half and had just one bucket in a stretch of nearly 11 minutes.
“We just had one of those nights where we could not put the ball in the goal,” Clayton coach Denny Medlin said. “We couldn’t throw it in the ocean. It’s a tough way to go out.”
Hunter finished with 13 points for the Pride and was joined in double figures by Ben Zemonek with 10.
Tre Armstead led the Comets with eight points in his final game alongside fellow seniors Austin Boyd, Zack Greene, Mason Medlin, Darrius Stevens and Kenny Williams.