AMERICAN CORNER — The county-rival matchup lived up to expectations here Friday evening, keeping a Senior Night crowd entertained until the final seconds.
After watching its 19-point lead disappear and trailing by eight points early in the fourth quarter, North Caroline High’s girls’ basketball team rallied for a 61-60 victory over Colonel Richardson to end the regular season.
Kandice Thomas netted 26 points to lead the Bulldogs in scoring, including her 1,000th career point on a 3-pointer in the first quarter. North Caroline finished with 9-11 overall, 7-9 North Bayside.
Seeding for the region tournaments is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 25, with play slated to begin on Friday.
The Colonels (5-15, 3-13) got double-digit scoring from four players, with 14 points each by Dalasia Wise, Meghan Stubbs, and Jayonia Jackson, and 12 from Markayla Wilson, and a bunch of rebounds by Sabrina Durasin.
Hailey Leibno scored off the glass with 1 minute, 5 seconds remaining after an offensive rebound by Camryn Pepper to give the Bulldogs a 61-57 lead. Colonel Richardson’s Jackson stole the ball and hit a layup with 22 seconds remaining to pull the Colonels within 61-59.
Forced to foul, Colonel put Tahlyiah Thomas on the free-throw line and she missed two shots with 14.3 seconds remaining. She collected the loose rebound, but after dribbling, threw up another shot instead of waiting to get fouled again. Colonel’s Wise grabbed the missed shot and fed Stubbs for a potential game-tying layup, but she was fouled with 2.2 seconds on the scoreboard.
Stubbs’ first free throw eased off the left side of the rim. After a timeout by North Caroline, she hit her second free throw and the Colonels called timeout. They forced a tie-up on the ensuing inbounds pass, but the possession arrow was in the Bulldogs’ favor, and one more inbounds pass ended the game.
“I don’t think I’ve had to coach that hard in a long time,” Bulldogs head coach Mark Potter said. “We got into foul trouble and that really hurt us throughout the game. We were in foul trouble on one player two minutes into the first quarter. The girls need to learn to play the way the officials are calling the game. They called it tight tonight so we have to learn to do a better job of that.
“And we’ve got to make free throws,” added Potter. “We were 11 for 32. It’s tough to win games like that. … We’re learning basketball as we go in the game, and this was a good game for them heading into the playoffs. I was proud of them. Up by 18, blow that lead, and get down by 10 or 11 and then claw back into it. The message has always been: ‘One possession at a time’ and they made it work.”
North Caroline had success with a half-court trap in the first half but also got into foul trouble. That trouble caused the Bulldogs to abandon the trap in the second half and the Colonels took advantage, outscoring North Caroline 21-8 in the third quarter.
A 14-0 Colonel run, led by Stubbs and Wise, in a little over 1:30, beginning with 32 seconds left in the third quarter, gave the Colonels a 50-40 lead.
“It was a very good battle,” Colonels head coach Tom Coursey said. “We played well. We’re just young still. We’re a young ball club. We lost one of our best players (Kersene Austinville) early in the season, so it was just like putting the team back together and here at the end. But the girls are playing well. We had balanced scoring all the way through the book. Their press kind of got us at the end.”
The Bulldogs shifted back to their pressure defense in the fourth quarter and fought back.
Tahlyiah Thomas drained a jumper from the baseline and Kandice Thomas drove the lane through three defenders for a bucket to pull NC within 50-44 with 5:40 to play.
An 8-0 run starting with 3:18 remaining put the Bulldogs in front, 55-54. Kandice Thomas completed a three-point play after she was fouled on a layup, Stubbs hit a free throw, Brown converted an offensive rebound, and Pepper picked off a pass and scored with a lay-in.
Colonel’s Wise countered quickly with a fast-break bucket for her team’s final lead, 56-55, with 2:27 remaining.
Kandice Thomas hit a pair of foul shots after grabbing an offensive rebound to put NC ahead 57-56 with 1:46 left. The Bulldogs’ defense then created a turnover and Tahliyah Thomas scored to make it 59-56 with 1:30 remaining.
Kandice Thomas, a junior, went over 1,000 points with 7.5 seconds left in the first quarter.
“It feels great. It feels wonderful, it really does,” she said. “A lot of hard work and the support of my team and coaches. … I hit a three, usually I’m an in-the-paint type of person.”
The Bulldogs will likely travel to Parkside for their first postseason game on Monday, March 2.
Potter said it was his final regular-season game coaching basketball after 12 seasons. He said he’s going to shift his focus to coaching baseball.