Garner Cleveland: Sports

Veterans propel Wildcats

West Johnston’s Jarmeia Holder (4) drives the lane against Cleveland’s Brittany Preston (12).
West Johnston’s Jarmeia Holder (4) drives the lane against Cleveland’s Brittany Preston (12).

A couple years of growing pains might be starting to pay off for the West Johnston girls’ basketball team.

Cleveland, meanwhile, hopes to cash in on the same investment.

The veteran Wildcats forced a young Cleveland team into a game of catch-up Wednesday night and ran their record to 4-1 with a 46-35 win over the visiting Rams. est Johnston went a combined 13-32 the previous two seasons.

With four of the top six players in the rotation now seniors – and eight seniors on an 11-player roster –the Wildcats are relishing their winning ways.

After sprinting to a 26-10 lead, the Wildcats were suddenly forced back on their heels when Cleveland bridged the second and third quarters with a 15-4 run that trimmed the West Johnston lead to just five points nearing the end of the third quarter.

Unfazed, the Wildcats regained control in the final period thanks in part to a 12-for-15 showing from the free throw line.

“I thought we played well in the first half; the second half we got a little lackadaisical,” West Johnston coach Bill Pepicello said. “Some of that is tiredness. We’re still not in the shape we want to be in.”

Unsung hero: West Johnston senior guard Tori Strickland provided a spark, coming off the bench to score nine points. Strickland, who scored seven of her points before halftime, hit a three-pointer, a jumper and a pair of layups and was the only Wildcat reserve to get in the scoring column.

Turning point: With West Johnston clinging to a 30-25 lead late in the third quarter and Cleveland holding the momentum, the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run to expand their lead to 38-25 with five minutes remaining in the game.

“We’ve been talking all year about when we get knocked down we get back up,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “It’s always one quarter that gets us.”

What worked: The Cleveland reserves were highly effective, contributing 17 points. Sophomore Myrayna Watkins led the charge with nine points off the bench, while fellow sophomore Amber Scott chipped in six.

Best quote: “Our hair’s on fire; we need to slow down.” That was Danehower telling his team to settle down and stop the big runs.

Feeling the impact: Conference play hasn’t even begun, and West Johnston has already lost two players to injury. Senior Avvette Smith is lost for the season with a knee injury, and junior Brittany Doss is also out of action with a hip injury.

Going forward: With just one senior on the team, Cleveland will continue to gain valuable experience while developing its young core of talent. The Rams started three juniors and two sophomores, and six of the 12 varsity players are freshman or sophomores.

For West Johnston, the time to win is now with a veteran cast that has been through it all.