The most dangerous thing to have in the Smith Center on Saturday was a lead.
In the four games – the 2A and 4A boys and girls titles – the teams that lost held the lead the longest.
Three of them had double-digit leads that dissipated and all four games saw a fourth-quarter lead change.
In the 2A boys championship, Farmville Central trailed East Lincoln by 14 in the third quarter but won 81-71 after a 37-point explosion in the fourth.
North Pitt was down by 13 to open the third quarter but defeated East Davidson 68-65 for the 2A girls championship.
Cary led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before losing 49-46 to Charlotte Catholic in the 4A boys title.
Northwest Guilford and Millbrook were back-and-forth in the 4A girls title – neither trailed by more than six – but Northwest led by three with 1 minute, 13 seconds left before Millbrook won at the buzzer 46-45.
The four games at Carmichael Arena – where 3A and 1A played – featured two close games and two comfortable double-digit wins including Voyager Academy’s 1A boys title.
Crutchfield’s heroics: There are 100 ways a ball can bounce on a missed free throw. At the end of the 4A girls title game, it bounced nowhere near N.C. State recruit Kai Crutchfield. Yet that didn’t stop the smallest player on the lane for Millbrook.
Crutchfield went across the lane, grabbed an offensive rebound that bounced beyond Northwest Guilford’s 6-foot Morgan Pointer, then threw up a prayer that banked in off the backboard.
An important part of the play was Dazia Powell. On the other side of the lane, Powell tried to slip the Northwest Guilford box-out by taking a step backward and around. Both Vikings players went with her, which left a hole right where the ball bounced.
“I honestly wasn’t thinking about it. I just went ahead and shot it,” Crutchfield said.
Millbrook has won three titles in the past five years. N&O video of the shot is at nando.com/preps.
Dunk of the day: Of all things to be thinking about as the seconds tick down on a state title, Farmville Central’s Michael Taylor thought of a bet.
“Someone bet me I couldn’t do it in a game,” he said of throwing down what has to be the first between-the-legs dunk in an NCHSAA championship game.
East Lincoln’s Sage Surratt missed a 3 that mattered little, and Taylor got an outlet pass at halfcourt with no one challenging.
The clock ran out after the dunk, punctuating the Jaguars’ victory. And for Taylor, that’s his last shot as a high school player. The senior graduates this spring.
N&O video of the feat is at nando.com/preps.
Cary crowds the Dome: No other fan base packed the Dean Dome seats better than Cary on Saturday. Kelly green took up almost three-fourths of the lower bowl in the 4A boys championship.
This year’s team united a school that had run upon hard times in athletics as district lines shifted often. The way the Imps played – with humility and togetherness – made fans of many.
Cory Gensler’s heroics and Donte Tatum’s flashy plays were the headliners, but the Imps’ success was predicated on how Jay Hicks defended and rebounded, how Darrion Burnett made the right plays from the point, Kyle Gensler coming up with timely 3s and help defense and how players like Phil King, Philip Blackley, Elijah Idlett and Jeff Fortuny made the most of their minutes.
Cary went 24-0 in the regular season, 16-0 in the conference and won five straight playoff games – the last three before Saturday in thrilling fashion with two overtime games (one, a 19-point comeback and the other a buzzer-beater). In the season’s final 16 games, the Imps won in overtime four times.
“They made us proud to be Imps again,” coach Allan Gustafson said, fighting back tears. “They rallied a community. They won the hearts and minds of everyone who came out and watched them.”
Gustafson emphasized that the championship should not take away from the season. He has always stressed the celebration of the journey.
“We cannot allow that one tough stretch of basketball to disproportionately impact what this team has accomplished this year. They are state champions in my heart,” Gustafson said. “We may not have the trophy that says state champions, but where it counts the most – when you impact people, when you affect people and when you matter to people – they’re state champions.”
Voyager’s first: Voyager Academy, a charter school in Durham, had been to two baseball championships, but Saturday’s title was the first championship victory in any sport. Jay Huff’s triple-double in the win is one of the best title-game performances ever.
3A title ends in brawl: The 3A boys basketball title ended with an on-court altercation in the final minute. Concord’s Jay M. Robinson was leading Fayetteville Terry Sanford by one in the final seconds when both teams were on the court fighting for a loose ball.
Two fans ran onto the court and one punched a Robinson player.
With 0.3 seconds left, the officials ruled three fouls on Terry Sanford – one personal, one flagrant and one technical. Robinson made 3 of 6 free throws to win 59-55.
Nontraditional success: The eight basketball champions included one parochial school – Charlotte Catholic – and one charter school – Voyager Academy. Winston-Salem Prep’s girls, the 1A champions, are a public magnet school.
Rural public 1A schools have won just one 1A title in boys or girls basketball in the last five years; East Carteret’s boys last year.