It didn’t have the leading scorer or rebounder, in fact, they weren’t even close. However, Green Hope made a statement, nearly snapping powerhouse top-seeded Hillside’s 25-game win streak in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls basketball playoffs.
The Falcons overcame six-point deficits on three different occasions, but had its final shot ricochet off the side of the backboard with three seconds to go.
Jakelbi Lewis hit both of her free throws to give the Hornets a 33-30 lead, effectively icing the game.
“You’re not going to win a state championship without a couple things: a little bit of luck, doing a lot of things well, and winning some ugly games,” Hillside coach Ovester Grays said. “Main thing is you win and advance.”
As for now, the Hornets will look ahead as they try to capture their first state title since 1996.
“We have our eyes on a state championship every year, that’s the goal,“ Grays said. “If we lost our next game, go 27-2 and win the conference title … will it be disappointing? Yeah. Will it take away from this program? I don’t think so. I’d rather be consistently good than win one championship and not be good.”
Green Hope’s Nia Washington scored the first points of the game, but Grissett responded with four consecutive Hillside baskets. It wasn’t until the second quarter that one of Grissett’s teammates scored, at which point she already had 14 points.
Grays held nothing back about his star player, who finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and an assist. No one else on the team scored more than four points.
“I think she’s the best player in the state of North Carolina, hands down,” Grays said. “She does things not a lot of players do. She’s our go-to kid.”
Grissett says Grays trusts her to see opportunities and take over the game when she needs to.
“It’s a mindset. Coach Grays has this thing, a body list. I’m the eyes, Jakelbi (Lewis) is the heart and Ja’Mia (Johnson) is the backbone and everybody has different parts,” Grissett said. “I’ve got to see what’s going on, see what we need to do, because he says I’m his eyes.”
When Green Hope cut the deficit to 22-21 after a Rachel Argabright 3-pointer in the third quarter, Hillside went on a seven-to-one run to the end the period.
That lead eventually found itself at 31-25 with less than a minute to go in the game. Then the Falcons made one last push that had the the traveling fans hope, chanting “Lets go Green Hope.”
Kelly Fitzgerald hit an off-balance layup and the Falcons drew a charge on the defensive end that allowed them to take possession right back. Demoyia Corprew, who was 0-for-4 before that point, hit a 3 that had the Falcons down by only one point.
After Lewis missed the first end of a one-and-one, Corprew grabbed the rebound and coach Mike Robinson took his final timeout. The Falcons held the ball for the last shot that eventually came up short.
On Dec. 2, the Falcons conceded to the Hornets 53-17 on the same court. It was the second Hillside win of the season, and the first of its now 26-game long win streak. The three-point loss showed the mass improvement Green Hope made over the past couple months.
“We’ve grown a lot and we’ve gotten better. Just to have a chance at the end, that’s all we ask for, it just didn’t fall our way,” Robinson said. “The girls played as hard as they can play, they just don’t quit. They have the heart.”
The Falcons graduate their third highest scorer this season in sharpshooter Allie Winiecki (three points, one assist), but return rising seniors Fitzgerald (nine points, one rebound) and Argabright (six points, four rebounds), as well as Washington (eight points, eight rebounds), a freshman standout.
This loss stings, but Robinson thinks the experience of going deep in the playoffs will make his team hungrier to do even more next year.
“They’re going to hit the weight room, play their summer ball,” he said. “The girls coming back, they have a taste of it and I think they like it.”
Hillside’s Jessica Wright and Johnson combined for 15 rebounds.