At some point Leesville Road’s girls basketball team will finish a “what-might-have-been” season. The Pride has been playing without the talent and leadership of West Point-bound Lauren McNamara-Clement.
Leesville Road lost the 6-foot-2 senior just five games into the season to a knee injury, but a first-round victory in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs has kept alive its hopes into Thursday’s second round.
The Pride (20-7) advanced as the No. 14 seed with a 62-52 victory over No. 18 seed Cary Tuesday night at The Pride’s gym. The Imps, led by sophomore Ariana Smith’s 10 points, finished with a 15-10 record.
Leesville Road’s season began largely relying on its only other senior, team captain Ashley Gill. But late into Brittany Staves’ sophomore season, the 5-11 guard’s game has matured to provide Gill leadership and playmaking support.
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“Brittany was first team All-Cap-8 this year,” said Leesville Road coach Ben Daniels. “If you can make first team All-Cap-8, you’re a really good player. When the chips are the table we want her calling the shots. We talked before the game about what we needed from her. She has elevated her game.”
Against Cary, Gill carried Leesville Road to a 38-23 halftime lead with 16 of her 19 points. But once the Imps closed the deficit to 46-36 entering the fourth period, Staves took over the game.
She opened the fourth quarter outscoring Cary 10-6 to regain the momentum. She scored 15 of her 28 points in the second half.
The fourth opened with Staves hitting a three-point field goal. After a Cary miss, she was fouled driving to the basket on fast break. She hit both free throws. She added another layup and then converted a three-point play with a free throw for a 52-37 lead with 4:17 to play.
She’s come a long way from the girl who came off the bench as a freshman.
“She’s playing a different role for us than last year,” Daniels said. “She didn’t think I played her enough last year, but she has really blossomed into her role. We have put a lot of responsibility on her shoulder. Her best basketball is ahead of her. She’s not close to her ceiling. She’s just figuring out what she can do.”
Staves credited Gill and the Pride’s team chemistry that has developed as the players adjusted to the loss of McNamara-Clement.
“Our chemistry has grown over time,” Staves said. “We know what we can do now. It’s close to the end of season, and we don’t want it to be over. We lost in the first round last year and we were not going to let that happen again.”
Leesville will head to Lumberton in Thursday’s third round.