High School Sports

East Chapel Hill girls’ basketball explodes in fourth to beat Cardinal Gibbons

Neither of East Chapel Hill’s leading scorers missed from the floor in the fourth quarter against Cardinal Gibbons Tuesday night.

The Wildcats even came out striking quickly to claim a double-digit lead for the first time in the game.

Still, East coach Michelle Wood didn’t feel like her team had control until the closing seconds of its 61-45 win over the Crusaders in Raleigh. Cardinal Gibbons was celebrating its senior night.

“I never thought we had total control,” Wood said. “Ali hit those two 3s that gave us a little bit of breathing room. They have a lot of shooters, lots of weapons. I never thought until maybe the last minute that we had a little bit of the lead.”

The final bucket was from senior point guard Ali Cyr-Scully, who scored it off of her fifth steal of the night. She finished with a game-high 38 points, going 6-of-6 in the fourth. She hit two early fourth-quarter 3s to spark the Wildcats.

By halftime, Cyr-Scully had a team-high 10 points. Cardinal Gibbons worked a menacing trap and hit assertive 3-pointers, forcing the Wildcats to make adjustments after the break.

But let them tell it, the key was staying patient against the hosts.

“We just worked on being patient and working around (the trap),” Cyr-Scully said. “If you work it long enough defensively, it’ll break down.”

Gibbons opened with a 6-0 edge after a pair of triples from Olivia Smith, who led the Crusaders with 19 points and 11 boards. Though East limited its turnovers in the first half, the Wildcats couldn’t shake Gibbons until the final frame.

With fewer than 2 seconds left in the the third, Cyr-Scully was fouled on a three-point attempt. She made all of the shots to put the Wildcats up entering the last quarter.

T.J. Johnson added 19 for East, leading the game with 14 rebounds. Both her assists counted as Cyr-Scully 3-pointers. As a forward who can handle the ball, Johnson shouldered some pressure for Cyr-Scully, an early Gibbons focus.

“They originally started off in the triangle with two on Ali and one on T.J.,” Wood said. “Having two people who can handle the ball gives us a little more opportunity.”

Riley Smyth added 10 points for Gibbons, and her teammate Elizabeth McCulloh led the game with three assists.

Turning point

At the 6:02 mark of the fourth, Johnson and Cyr-Scully hooked up for a 3. The point guard knocked down the triple from the wing to give the Wildcats a 48-37 lead and what appeared to be complete control. They went up by 11 before Gibbons dug into it.

Three to know

Ali Cyr-Scully, East Chapel Hill: The senior point guard led the game in scoring and boosted her team to a victory, splitting the season series with Gibbons. She said after dropping the first cycle, she didn’t want to go out losing twice to a team that was playing in the PAC-6 Conference for the first time. Her hot hand in the fourth kept East afloat.

T.J. Johnson, East Chapel Hill: Johnson came out with two early fouls in the first quarter, but it didn’t deter her from having a good game. When she returned in the second, she converted an and-one to tie the game at 12. She knotted the score three separate times, the next coming on a hook shot to make it 19-all. Johnson scooped in a basket at 1:08 in the third force a 34-34 tie.

Olivia Smith, Cardinal Gibbons: One of the school’s top scorers not only put in a team-best 19, but she made plays throughout the game. She took away an East dribble in the first quarter, and scored over three defenders in the second. Smith forced back-to-back steals after halftime and even fought for her own offensive rebound. She found McCulloh for a 3, McCulloh’s only points of the night.

Out of bounds

Cardinal Gibbons started all four seniors for senior night, with Smith coming off the bench last. Before her name was called over the microphone, she laughed and jokingly asked, “Am I the center?” She indeed lined up against East’s Johnson for the tipoff.

Jessika Morgan: 919-829-45238, @JessikaMorgan