In the roller coaster that is basketball, it was the East Wake boys that survived the long ride down and rolled to the second round of the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs.
After two weeks of snow-related inactivity, the Warriors blew a big lead but recovered for a 63-57 win over Leesville Road on Sunday.
East Wake Gerald Melton saw the effects of rust on his team. The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 24, before winter weather struck.
“We did some good things but at times it looked like we hadn’t played in two weeks, which we hadn’t,” Melton said. “But this time of the year, especially in this situation, it’s about just trying to hang on.”
Leesville fought back, primarily through drawing and converting free throws, from a 14-point deficit in the second half to take a 53-52 lead with under three minutes to play. But East Wake responded with a run to retake a 60-54 advantage and held on in the final seconds.
“We took the lead and gave it right back 10 seconds later,” said Leesville coach Russ Frazier. “Basketball is a roller coaster. One second you’re on the ride up, next second you’re going back down. We just couldn’t get everything under control.”
The No. 15-seed Warriors (17-6) led 19-9 after the first quarter and 24-11 soon after, appearing poised to run away with the game. But a string of missed layups for East Wake and conversions at the other end of the floor pulled the No. 18-seed Pride within 30-22 at halftime.
“They were having a tough time scoring except in transition,” Melton said. “Three times we got to the rim, had a layup, missed it and they went down and got a basket – kept them in the game.”
The Warriors used a hot start to the second half to stretch the lead back to 38-24. But Leesville (14-11), which went 10-for-14 at the free throw line as a team, converted a plethora of three-point plays to cut into the lead.
A pair of layups and converted free throws from Eric Scollard and Alex Hunter in the third quarter’s final minute pulled the Pride within seven. Hunter then continued his work in the fourth quarter, hitting a 3-pointer to cut it to 48-44 and later made another 3-point play to make it 52-50.
By the time Ben Zemonek drove to the basket, made his layup and drew a free throw that fouled out East Wake leading scorer Josh Siler and put Leesville ahead, the visitors’ sideline was bustling.
East Wake’s Tyler Burton answered with a critical 3-ball, however, his only field goal of the afternoon, to quell the noise and the Warriors converted at the line as the clock wound down.
Siler hit on four occasions from 3-point range to lead East Wake with 16 points. Quincy Jackson (13 points) and Josh McLean (11 points) also hit double digits and contributed to East Wake’s significant rebounding success.
Jonathan Mebane’s 16 points paced the Pride, which started no seniors, while Zemonek and Hunter added 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Frazier attributed his team’s season-ending loss to their sluggish start.
“We didn’t execute offensively and defensively, and that’s always a minus from the get-go,” he said.
East Wake advanced to play in the second round Monday against No. 2-seed Millbrook, a team that Melton considers “probably the best in the state.”