What better way to see what you are made of than coming right out of the gate and facing off against your closest rival in the first week of the regular season?
That’s what the Cleveland and West Johnston basketball teams attempted to pull off on the second day of the season as the first glimpses of what the season could hold started to take shape.
In the opener, the Cleveland girls basketball team used a balanced attack to wear down the Wildcats in a 67-25 victory that featured three Rams in double figures and 10 players in all who posted at least a point.
To conclude the evening, depth was again key to the outcome as it allowed Cleveland’s boys squad to press and trap West Johnston for much of the game, leading to Wildcat turnovers and easy baskets for the Rams in a triumphant 91-61 debut for the Rams.
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A team win
The Rams’ Miranda Hinton came off the bench to lead all scorers with 21 points and a very deep Cleveland girls basketball team came out firing on all cylinders in its 67-25 win.
Myrayna Watkins added 14 points and senior guard Brittany Preston also reached double figures with 13 points in what is a first for veteran coach Chris Danehower.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I could have eight or nine girls start,” Danehower said. “It’s a unique situation.”
As Danehower continued to cycle in players off of the bench, West Johnston’s starters got into foul trouble and the Wildcats (0-2) began having a difficult time keeping up with their rivals.
Down by just six points after the first quarter, three foul shots were all the visitors could muster in the second quarter as the Rams (1-0) continued to add to their lead.
“I think they got frustrated and couldn’t dig down deep enough,” first-year coach Laura Jefferson said. “Cleveland is really good as far as getting up and down the floor. Eventually, we just didn’t have the energy to keep up with them.”
Tehya Lee paced West Johnston with eight points and six rebounds while senior point guard Tanay Smith finished with five points.
Freshman Kailin Williamson helped give the Rams the rebounding advantage as she hauled in nine boards herself.
Crediting seniors Preston and Alliyah Sands for setting the tone early, Danehower sees a determined group looking to build on its second place finish in the Two Rivers Conference from a season ago.
“They just have really picked it up and provided a lot of strong leadership,” said Danehower. “It’s a tone of, ‘Hey, we can be great if we work together.’”
Cleveland’s pressure too much
Bobby Stenborg came out where he left off as the reigning Two Rivers 3A Conference Player of the Year was in fine form with 27 points to lead the Rams past West Johnston at home.
The senior standout had some help as well, however, as Jaylen Pierce contributed with 15 points and Jeff David added a baker’s dozen.
Cleveland relied on full court pressure and trapping half-court defense to disrupt the Wildcats and generate plenty of points off of turnovers to extend its lead as the game wore on.
“I call out instructions and they can line up and communicate on which spots they need to be in.”,” said Cleveland coach John Jacobs of the defensive pressure. “It’s obviously just the first game, but I was pleased with their effort and execution.”
West Johnston turned the ball over nine times in the opening quarter alone and fell behind by 13 points after the first eight minutes of play.
Scott Chestnutt, who posted his second straight double-double performance to start the season, 15 points and 10 rebounds, tried to keep the Wildcats in the game but the visitors from the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference had a difficult time getting into a groove offensively.
Bennett knows that a little tweaking is all that is needed because in Chestnutt, Ryan Holmes, Alex Ketrow and Cameron Williams, West Johnston should have no trouble putting points on the board.
“I’m excited about this year,” Bennett said. “I think we could have one of the best offensive teams we’ve ever had here.”