For Nicole Meyers, eight isn’t enough, and nine would be just fine.
Meyers, the girls’ basketball coach at Southeast Raleigh, has seen her Bulldogs win at least a share of the Greater Neuse River Conference regular season title in each of the past eight seasons.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Meyers said. “Nobody wants to be part of the group that ends that streak.”
For Southeast to make it nine crowns in a row, the Bulldogs will have to run the gantlet during a 72-hour stretch that includes road games at Knightdale and East Wake – the teams that entered this week as part of a three-way tie with Southeast at the top of the GNRC standings.
That list was dwindled to two Tuesday as Southeast never trailed en route to securing a 51-36 decision at Knightdale. The Bulldogs, the defending N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A runners-up, are now 18-3 overall and 10-1 in the GNRC heading into Friday’s showdown at East Wake, which won at Southeast earlier in the season.
“It’s championship week – that’s the way we have been looking at it,” said Southeast wing Kia Abrams, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points. “I like the fire we had (Tuesday). We are going to have to play a lot harder at East Wake, but this was a good start.”
Southeast, using its speed in transition to go with superior inside play, rolled to a 7-0 advantage to open the game. The start was a far different one for Knightdale when compared with the Knights’ victory last month over East Wake. In that contest, Knightdale (14-4, 8-2) gained plenty of momentum and confidence from its early heroics, but there were none to be had Tuesday.
“You have to credit Southeast,” said Knightdale coach Trent Bunn. “They are a hard-playing team. If you don’t match their intensity, you are going to find yourself in a hole pretty quickly. That’s what happened to us. We spent the entire game trying to dig out of that hole.”
While Southeast’s advantage was rarely in doubt, the Knights did creep back to within six points at 27-21 midway through the third period. The Bulldogs countered with a 9-0 spurt that all but wrapped up the victory.
“If you look at the big picture, you need to win games in a tough environment on the road to win a state championship,” Meyers said. “You have to find ways to get the job done. It was nice to see how we responded (in the third quarter). It’s a huge test for us to try to get these victories this week.”
Barring an upset in the final week of the regular season, the winner of Friday’s Southeast-East Wake matchup will probably be the GNRC champion.
“For that to happen, we knew we needed to win this game,” said Southeast sophomore guard Jada McMillan. “East Wake is a tough team. We will have to play good defense and close out on their shooters.”
The Bulldogs were able to accomplish that goal Tuesday by limiting the Knights to just 25 percent shooting from the field, compared with 41 percent for Southeast.
“We wanted to come out, take the lead and keep it the whole game,” Abrams said. “Once we got that lead and kept playing good defense, our momentum continued to build.”
Melody Prichard paced Knightdale with 11 points, while Abrams finished off her double-double with 12 boards for Southeast. McMillan chipped in with nine points and seven rebounds.
Knightdale boys win in OT
Knightdale averted a varsity sweep by pulling out a 61-54 overtime triumph against the Bulldogs. With the decision, the Knights (16-5, 8-3) moved into a tie for second place in the GNRC and are in a solid position to obtain a berth in the 4A playoffs.
Southeast slipped to 12-9 and 3-8, but the Bulldogs nearly pulled off the upset, thanks in part to a 10-0 spurt that concluded early in the fourth frame and turned a deficit into a 45-39 advantage.
Knightdale, however, rallied to take the lead before Southeast guard Dominic Foy converted two free throws with 29 seconds remaining to force the extra session.
In overtime, the Knights opened with eight unanswered points, four of which came from senior guard Dondre Griffin, a Murray State signee.
“We were less sloppy down the stretch,” Griffin said. “We just wanted it more. We have a game Friday against the No. 1 seed in the conference (Garner), so we really didn’t want to play another overtime. Our defense kept us up. We felt like if we could hold (Southeast), that we would be able to score on our end.”
Griffin all but clinched the victory with a thunderous left-handed breakaway dunk that pushed Knightdale ahead 61-52 at the 22-second mark.
Griffin closed with 14 points to pace Knightdale, while Foy was effective for the Bulldogs with 16 points.