Leading by 17, Kestrel Heights senior point guard Javier Rogers caught the ball and broke away for yet another fast-break chance in the Hawks’ runaway 89-56 victory in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A playoffs against Pamlico County on Thursday night.
But this play was different. Rather than finish with a layup or pass to a teammate, Rogers lifted the ball high off the window. Trailing senior David Mangum soared high but missed the dunk.
But the play is emblematic of the Hawks’ season, not necessarily for the swagger one might assume after seeing a second quarter, off-the-glass alley-oop and the team’s 26-0 start, but the explosive domination that’s marked the Hawks’ season.
“The dunks are not part of a swagger, it’s the explosiveness of our players,” Kestrel Heights coach Lenell Wallace said. “If they can get it, they get it. We know we’re going to have tougher competition, we know we’re going to have bigger guys, so we have to practice being explosive as best we can.”
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That lack of size was evident even in the Hawks’ big victory.
The only offense the smaller Pamlico County squad could muster came off of offensive rebounds that became put-back buckets. If a smaller team could do that to Kestrel Heights, running into an elite big man later in the state playoffs could be deadly.
That said, the athleticism of the squad will make them a tough matchup for anybody.
The duo of Rogers and Mangum, who led the team with 13 and 24 points, look to push the pace as fast as it can go. That athleticism paid dividends on defense, with several steals resulting in easy buckets that put the game on Thursday night out of reach before halftime.
But a team doesn’t start the season on a 26-game winning streak without a healthy dose of confidence. Kestrel Heights’ lone loss of the season, a 90-82 overtime heartbreaker in the North Central Athletic 1A Conference tournament title game to Voyager, might have helped the team recalibrate.
“We’re trying to figure out if it helped us,” Wallace said. “And when I say help us, we needed to refocus. Some of the guys said they needed to be humble, 26-0 can make your head big. But in the grand scheme of things, if you have other goals and you want to reach those goals, you have to stay focused.”
As the top-ranked seed in the region, it will be an upset if Kestrel Heights doesn’t make it to at least a Final Four. The standard is higher for the Hawks though, as they’re looking to earn their first state basketball title in what they hope won’t be the final year of the school’s existence.
“We just come to play every night,” Rogers said. “We don’t think about a team, we don’t down people, we just play basketball.”
Kestrel Heights will be at home again on Saturday in the third round of the playoffs against powerhouse East Carteret.