On a night when its defense was as stout as it has been all season long, the Cleveland girls basketball team’s offense wasn’t able to come through and the Rams’ fantastic record-breaking season came to a close in a 33-22 loss to Eastern Alamance in the second round of the 3A N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.
Cleveland (25-3) didn’t score until six minutes into the contest on a Jaeda Scott offensive rebound but thanks to the Rams’ suffocating defense that contested every pass and shot, Eastern Alamance held just a 6-2 lead entering the second quarter.
The Rams held the 15th-seeded Mid-State 3A co-conference champions to 21 points under their season average forcing 30 turnovers.
“It was a hot mess, wasn’t it?” asked Krotish. “Who would have thought that a team that was 25-2 playing a team that was 24-3 would score that many points? I was real proud of our defense; our offense was rough.”
After Cleveland seemed to right the ship a little bit and take a 17-15 lead midway through the third quarter on a Myrayna Watkins layup, the Rams entered a scoreless stretch that lasted over six minutes, which allowed the Eagles to methodically build a 24-17 fourth quarter lead.
“We just couldn’t put it in the basket,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “We had plenty of opportunities, the ball just didn’t go in the basket. It was just one of those nights.”
Despite shooting just 23.3% for the game (10-for-43), including 0-for-8 from behind the three-point line and 2-of-9 at the foul line, the Rams, defined by resiliency all season, made one last push as champions often do.
Angled off on her drives into the lane for much of the night, Miranda Hinton finally was able to turn the corner, finish at the rim and convert the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play with 3:26 left in the fourth quarter to bring the Rams to within 25-22.
The Eagles’ Megan Coble then knocked down a pair of free throws, however, on the ensuing possession and the Rams came up empty on their next four trips down the court, contributing to Eastern Alamance (25-3) scoring the game’s final eight points.
“I thought they played as hard as they could on defense and really, it was a great defensive game,” said Danehower. “The score wasn’t even indicative of how close it was, they just pulled away at the end.”
Coble was huge for the Eagles in the fourth quarter, coming in to take the place of Eastern Alamance’s leading scorer on the season Bree Evans after she fouled out.
Coble scored six of her nine points in the final frame, went 4-of-6 from the foul line and came up with five key rebounds.
“She finished the game for us with her rebounding and free throw shooting,” Eastern Alamance coach Tim Krotish said.
The Eagles advanced to face Northwood in the third round.
Lindsey Barker led Eastern Alamance with 10 points and was the only player for either team that scored in double figures. Hinton led the Rams with five points; Watkins and Kailjn Williamson each had four points.
The loss marked the end of the high school playing careers for six talented seniors who will leave a tough act to follow.
The core group of Brianna Emory, Hinton, Courtney McGregor, Amber Scott, Morgan Stapleton and Watkins led Cleveland to a school record 25 wins, including 13 in a row, and a pair of Two Rivers 3A Conference titles.
“It’s hard to go through the conference undefeated and win the conference tournament and go undefeated against the county: that’s very rare that you could duplicate that wherever you are,” said Danehower. “I couldn’t ask anything more of a team. This group has really come together and I learned as much from them as they have from me.”