When it comes to N.C. High School Athletics Association playoff basketball, seeding doesn’t mean a whole lot unless the top teams perform on the court.
It was touch and go for a while Thursday night for East 4A No. 1 seed Hillside, which had to step up play in the second half on the way to a 66-54 win over Knightdale in the second round of the NCHSAA girls tournament. The win was the 25th straight for Hillside (26-1), which advanced to the NCHSAA’s third round, where it was scheduled to meet No. 9 seeded Green Hope.
Hillside and Knightdale kept the score close much of the first half in a game that turned into a footrace in the final minutes. Both teams came out a little flat in the first quarter with neither team able to find the mark consistently as Knightdale (18-7) took a 9-8 lead.
Hillside coach Ovester Grays took the blame for the Hornets’ slow start saying he didn’t prepare them for the Knights’ defensive set.
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“They gave us something we hadn’t seen before on defense,” Grays said. “It was a triangle zone underneath, and we didn’t respond well initially.”
According to Knightdale coach Trent Bunn, they came into the game with a plan which worked quite well in the first half as the Knightdale defense was able to stifle Elisia Grissett, the Hornet’s leading scorer. Knightdale’s Zee Bowens was a force inside with four blocked shots.
“We had a good scouting report and we executed our game plan,” Bunn said.
Hillside was able get a leg up in the second quarter taking a 21-16 lead into the half with a more balanced attack despite only one field goal from Grissett. Knightdale junior Alexis Ingram was all over Grissett and didn’t let her get into the offensive scheme.
“I got frustrated because they were trying to get in my head,” Grissett said of her first-half performance. “I didn’t let it get the best of me and had a different mindset in the second half.”
The second half proved to be a different story as Grissett started to find her rhythm scoring nine points in the third quarter. The Knights kept pace despite having two of their top players, Bowens and Mikaya Wilson, on the bench with foul trouble most of the third quarter. Melody Prichard picked up the slack for the Knights scoring eight of her team-high 16 points in the quarter.
“It’s hard when you have two of your better players on the bench most of the third quarter,” Bunn said. “We had other players step up and we were right where we need to be.”
Bowens fouled out with nearly five minutes left in the game. The Knights lost their composure for a bit before regaining it, but Grissett turned on the after burners for Hillside and was nearly unstoppable in the fourth quarter, scoring 20 more points to help the Hornets seal the victory.
Hillside was up by as many as 14 points late in the game, but the Knights fought back to within six points with 40 seconds left to play. Grissett and Jakelbi Lewis hit their free throws to keep Knightdale at bay and earn their 25th straight win.
Grissett lead all scorers with 35 points. No other Hornet scored in double figures. Michaela Thompson had eight points and Lewis and Jessica Wright each added seven points.
Behind Prichard, Wilson added 15 points and Bowens had eight in the loss.
“Overall I wasn’t pleased with some of the rebounding,” Grays said. “At this point it is about play and advance and in the big scope of things you win and you keep playing.”
Grays said the team will work on rebounding and taking care of the ball better as the Hornets head into their round three matchup with Green Hope on Saturday.
In girls play ...
Hillside was the last girls team from Durham still alive in the NCHSAA playoffs after Thursday.
No. 14 Riverside didn’t go out quietly, fighting to the end in a 68-66 loss at No. 3 seeded Southeast Raleigh, a team that reached last year’s 4A championship game.
Two days before, No. 22 seeded Jordan had lost 62-53 in the first round at Wake Forest’s No. 11 Heritage, and No. 31 Northern had fallen 70-26 at East No. 2 seeded Raleigh Millbrook.
In the 3A, Southern Durham was knocked out in the first round with a 58-51 loss at No. 15 Eastern Alamance.
In the 2A tournament, the 24th-seeded N.C. School of Science and Math was eliminated in the first round with a 41-29 loss at No. 9 Reidsville, and in 1A play, No. 26 Kestrel Heights bowed out with a 55-21 loss at No. 7 East Columbus in the first round.