Kestrel Heights weathered numerous second-half runs by Whiteville on Tuesday night and came away with a 74-69 win that sends the Hawks to Fayetteville on Saturday for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A East regional final.
Senior guard Javier Rogers led Kestrel Heights with 26 points and dished out seven assists, while sophomore guard Jayvis Harvey chipped in with 18, including five 3-pointers. It was Harvey’s shooting in the first half with four of his 3s that gave Kestrel Heights a working margin over Whiteville that the Wolfpack couldn’t overcome.
“We had to keep pushing the ball and get buckets,” Rogers said. “The atmosphere was hot and rowdy and we liked it. We’re not done, yet. We’re trying to win a ring and a championship.”
After jumping out to a 23-17 first quarter lead, Kestrel was able to extend its advantage to double digits on several occasions the rest of the way. But each time the Hawks appeared ready to blow the game open, Whiteville mounted a comeback.
“They were a good team and they made their runs,” Kestrel Heights coach Lenell Wallace said. “We had to withstand them.”
Kestrel Heights’ lead reached 17 points midway through the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Harvey with 4:00 left in the quarter that made it 51-34.
“All I try to do is calm down and just shoot,” Harvey said. “If I’m missing, I’m going to keep shooting. We just had to stay calm as a team. A rim is a rim and a shooter can shoot on any rim.”
Whiteville fought back with a 15-4 run to narrow Kestrel Heights’ lead to 55-49 at the end of the third quarter. The Wolfpack forced Kestrel Heights in five turnovers in that stretch. Had it not been for a David Mangum bucket at the buzzer, the Hawks’ lead would only have been four points.
The Hawks quickly restored their to double digits in the first minute of the final period as Rogers scored on a drive, Evan Mills split a pair of free throws and Mangum scored after grabbing an offensive rebound and sticking it back in.
With five minutes left in the game, Kestrel Heights led 61-51. Whiteville mounted another comeback and got it down to 62-61. Mangum answered with a three-point play to give the Hawks a four-point cushion. Whiteville cut it back to two points three more times but never got closer as Kestrel Heights made eight of its last nine at the free throw line.
“We made good runs and I thought we played well,” Whiteville coach Jerry Singletary said. “We had some missed opportunities and really didn’t hit any outside shots. We played a great basketball team. I think my kids left it all on the floor. It hurts because we lost but it was some great competition.”
Whiteville finished 28 of 65 from the floor, including 0 of 7 from behind the arc. Kestrel Heights was 24 of 44 shooting with 8 of 14 shots coming from long range. The Hawks also made 18 of 23 free throws.
The game was played at Panther Creek because the gym at Kestrel Heights does not meet the capacity standard required by the NCHSAA for a regional semifinal game.
Wallace and his players didn’t seem to be bothered by the venue change, other than missing out on being able to play on their home court one last time.
“We had wanted our seniors to get one more game at our place but that wasn’t meant to be,” Wallace said. “This was a nice gym and we warmed up to it quite well.”