The fleeting gift of a near-perfect season wasn’t lost on Neuse Christian guard Mack Wilder, even as it came to an end on Saturday at Charlotte Latin.
Wilder led Neuse with 18 points, but Fayetteville’s Trinity Christian upset the top-seed Lions 65-59 to win the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A girls state basketball championship. The Lions (23-1) led by 10 early in the second half, but watched Trinity star Alex Scruggs and her teammates chip away slowly at the lead.
“This season was the best thing that’s happened to any of us,” said Wilder, who, like teammate Izabela Leite (16 points) played much of the second half with four fouls. “We’re a team that plays so well together, just as one unit. We did that all year.”
Trinity (19-3) rebounded from a flat first half behind Scruggs’ scoring day, but had to finish out the victory without her.
Scruggs, having scored 10 of her 39 points in the fourth, picked up her fifth foul defending Wilder’s drive to the basket with 3 minutes, 23 seconds left. Wilder’s foul shots drew Neuse to within 61-54. It was up to Gainey and the rest of the Crusaders to close the deal.
“It was time for somebody else to step up, and they did,” Trinity coach Charles Stubbs said. “Our seniors stepped up, made free throws, made layups.”
The Lions’ fortunes took a turn, too, a minute later.
In a scrum for a rebound after a missed 3-pointer, Leite too found her fifth foul, the deficit still four. Neuse scored just once after Leite’s departure. Julia Zupicich added 13 for Neuse, which fell short despite 4-for-10 foul shooting for Trinity the rest of the way.
“We were just two teams that wanted this,” said Wilder, who feared she’d drawn her fifth foul late on a play called a jump ball. “If they had a good trip down the court, we wanted to come back and do even better. We had our chances today, but I believe for us, there’s something bigger.”
Shots stopped falling for Neuse late, but the Lions kept scrapping for rebounds and loose balls until the final whistle, even as they sensed the perfect season coming to an end.
“It can get scary, but even when there was 20 seconds left and we were down we thought, ‘let’s go get this.’ ” Wilder said. “We couldn’t quit.”