On an afternoon the Southeast Raleigh and Cary girls basketball teams both started two college scholarship seniors along with underclassmen on the recruiting radar, a bench player stole the spotlight.
Southeast Raleigh junior Destini Abramson-Lee played the “sixth man” role so well the No. 2 seeded Bulldogs survived early foul trouble to beat fifth-seeded Cary 58-51 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East Regional final Saturday at Fayetteville State’s Capel Arena.
Abramson-Lee’s three points in the first quarter and seven points and three rebounds in 23 minutes overall also sent Southeast Raleigh (25-5) to its third straight 4A state title game and fourth in the last five. The Bulldogs are still seeking their first state crown when they meet West Region champion West Forsyth (26-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
Southeast Raleigh coach Nicole Meyers thought so much of Abramson-Lee’s performance she brought her to the post-game interview room along with Kansas-bound senior point guard Tamia Davis, who led the Bulldogs with 16 points.
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“My mindset was to play defense and the offense will come,” said Abramson-Lee, a junior.
When Southeast Raleigh’s 6-2 junior Anya Poole picked up her second foul three minutes into the game, the Bulldogs trailed 7-0. Abramson-Lee entered the contest while 6-0 Maya Johnson, who is bound for Elon, shifted to defending Cary’s 6-5 Tamari Key, who is a Tennessee commit.
“We had depth,” Meyers said. “When Anya went out, we were able to put in Morgan Graham and she held it down for a while and Mikayla Harris stepped up big defensively. But Destini kept us in the game early. When we couldn’t find our way offensively, Destini attacked. It’s crazy that a 5-5 player could be so efficient in the paint, but she found a way.”
The 7-0 deficit closed to an 11-8 difference by the end of the first quarter with Davis scoring two field goals and Abramson-Lee a field goal and one of two free throws.
Southeast Raleigh’s bench combined for a double-double: 12 points and 10 rebounds. Graham added three points with three rebounds and Harris two points with four boards. Jamia Hazell, a 5-7 junior, joined Davis in double-figures with 14 points and four rebounds. Johnson finished with eight and four.
Cary, playing in its first regional final since winning the 1993 state title, finished 20-9.
“This was the culmination of the last three or four years,” Cary coach Patrick Daly said. “These girls have grown so much in the last two to three years. It was great to see it all come together.”
Cary struggled with its own fouls in a physical contest that saw Southeast Raleigh called for 23 and Cary 21. The difference in free throwing shooting kept Cary in the game. The Imps were only 11-of-36 on field goals (30.6 percent) but 28-of-35 from the line (80.0 percent).
Key, who picked up her fourth foul with 1:21 remaining in the third quarter, finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, while her sister, 6-3 sophomore Teonni Key, led by both schools with a double-double, 22 points, 10 rebounds. Jada Smith, who is committed to Long Beach State, added eight points with five rebounds.