Garner Cleveland: Sports

A stellar playoff debut

Cleveland’s Jaylyn Pearce (13) prepares to drive around Topsail’s Kyle Wright (3).
Cleveland’s Jaylyn Pearce (13) prepares to drive around Topsail’s Kyle Wright (3). newsobserver.com

Cleveland’s offense was about as good as it can get in the first round of the state 3A boys’ basketball tournament on Friday night.

And that was really, really bad news for visiting underdog Topsail.

Bobby Stenborg’s 16 points led six Rams in double figures as the Two Rivers champions walloped the visiting Pirates 93-57.

The only thing keeping Cleveland — which hadn’t played in 15 days because of several doses of frozen precipitation— from topping the century mark was the running clock over the final 4:04 after a 3-pointer from Jaylen Pearce made it 93-53 and coach John Jacobs cleared his bench.

No. 2 seed Cleveland (22-3) extended its winning streak to seven games, while No. 31 seed Topsail finished 7-17.

The Rams, who had never played in a state tournament before last season when they won their first-round game, will look for the first second-round win in the school’s five-year history at home on Monday night. They’ll host Eastern Guilford (20-5), and should the Rams win that one they would have yet another home game on Tuesday night for a spot at the Eastern semifinals in Fayetteville.

“We hadn’t practiced since Monday,” Jacobs said of Friday’s effort. “I probably would have practiced harder if I had known we’d be off for three days. But the team has been working hard all year.

“I had watched some film on Topsail and I knew they had some kids who could shoot. I just figured if we could get them playing fast we’d be OK. Credit to Topsail — they played hard and didn’t quit. But I was happy to see how hard our guys played.”

Jeff David added 14 points for the Rams while Isaiah Barnes added 13. Wanyae Hatfield chipped in 12, Landry Moore 11 and Jaylyn Pearce 10. David, Barnes and Pearce all came off the bench, which was just as dominant as the Rams’ starting five.

Andrew Bishop had 12 points and Alec Baker 10 for Topsail, which plays in the tough Mideastern 3A/4A conference. The Pirates kept fighting for 32 minutes, but the Rams were far too athletic. And Cleveland was just on.

“Cleveland really shoots it well and breaks you down off the dribble,” Topsail coach Jeff Gainey said. “They had four or five different kids who were stroking it. They make the right cuts — that’s a tribute to them athletically, as well as their coaching.

“We don’t like to get into track meets. We missed five shots in the first half after we had beaten that pressure and never recovered. Cleveland is just as good as advertised.”

The Rams led 31-20 after one period - with Moore hitting a pair of early 3-pointers - and got better as the game went on.

“I’ve been working hard on my shot all season,” the junior guard Moore said. “It feels good when they’re falling. We shot really well tonight. It seemed like everything we shot went in, and a lot of them weren’t really good looks. We were a little faster than they were, and that helped a lot.”

Hatfield had eight points in the second quarter including one thunderous breakaway dunk, and the Rams led 54-31 at halftime.

“We were just having a great time out there,” the senior post man said. “We talked to each other and we ran our plays right. We really got into this game. We went extra hard in warmups to make sure we were ready tonight. Now we have to keep working hard, be relentless and keep moving.”

Senior Stenborg, who is averaging over 20 points a game and is bound for Lenoir-Rhyne next season, said the Rams just need to keep doing what they’re doing to keep on winning.

“I was surprised at how well we played after missing so many practices because of the snow,” Stenborg said. “But we definitely got after it. Topsail was a little bigger than we were, but we were definitely faster.

“We’re just excited about how we’re doing. Our goal has been to win a state championship and that’s definitely what we want to do.”

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