It may have been a day early, but for Person High School girls’ basketball coach Jay Carmichael, it felt like Groundhog Day.
The Rockets took a lead into the fourth quarter but were dangerously close to squandering another opportunity to take control of the Mid-State Conference race.
But this time around, the big shot just didn’t fall for the other team and Person did just enough to escape with a 45-43 victory against Western Alamance Friday at home.
The Rockets improved to 16-3 overall and 8-2 in the Mid-State, while Western slipped to 13-7 and 6-4 in conference play. Person’s victory, coupled with Eastern Alamance’s 44-42 win against defending Mid-State and 3A state champion Northern Guilford gives the Rockets sole possession of first place in the conference with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Person holds a one-game lead over the Nighthawks in the conference standings and traveled to Northern Guilford Tuesday night. Results were unavailable at press time. For the first time in Carmichael’s four-year stint leading the Rockets, his team has a legitimate chance to win a championship heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
“That’s what makes this so crazy and fun,” Carmichael said. “What an opportunity to have. We’re going to their place, the defending state champs, they’re playing good basketball and they were playing well when we beat them. The opportunity to go in there and play with a lot on the line is exciting. I hope we’re up for the challenge and I know we will be.”
Western Alamance nearly forced a chaotic five-way tie atop the conference standings.
Person took a slim 39-35 lead into the fourth quarter and needed a couple of huge stops late to survive with the win.
The Rockets missed several key free throws in the final minutes and opened the door for the Warriors to tie the game in the waning seconds. Western Alamance ran a sidelines out of bounds play to perfection and gave forward Hannah Russell a good look at the basket over a shorter Rocket defender with around 12 seconds to play.
Russell’s attempt inside the paint rimmed out and she was whistled for a foul after climbing Aaliyah Jones’ back while they were trying to pull down the rebound.
But the Warriors got another chance to tie the game.
Jones misfired on the front end of the one-and-one and Western Alamance guard Silken Carlton rushed the ball up the floor looking for a potential game-tying shot. Carlton nearly got to the rim but lost control of the ball while going up for a shot and the teams battled for possession of the ball in front of the Warriors’ bench as time expired.
“With our team, sometimes it’s best to just let them play because they’re thinking too much and they just make mistakes,” Carmichael said. “That last minute and a half was us running clock and them trying to stop us from running clock. It was just us holding on to our seats.”
Nydriya Marner carried the Rockets’ offense in the second half, scoring 15 of her team-high 16 points in the final two quarters. The junior guard had a stellar stretch late in the third where she scored seven points in the final minute to lift her team to a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“(Marner) just decided that she was going the (heck) off,” Carmichael said. “No one was going to stop her. She was rebounding, making shots doing everything.”
Senior Octavia Thompson got off to a blistering start in her final regular season home game with 10 points in the first half. Thompson drained two threes during that run.
Jewel Holloway chipped in eight points, while Jones added six.
Aaliyah Williams and Aliyah Love added two points, while DaNiya Richardson capped off the scoring with one point.
Four of the Rockets’ last six conference games have been decided by five points or less, and this is a trend that Carmichael believes will continue as his team wraps up the regular season.
“We’ve just got out mind that this is how it’s just going to be. We know that we’re going to have to be ready to play hard, all the way through, not just in the fourth quarter, but all the way,” Carmichael said. “The first time through when we all played each other, it didn’t look like it would be like this. It looked like we were in a spot where we could just run away with it. We entered the Northeast game really in the driver’s seat. When we lost to them, I think it woke us up. It was devastating to everybody, including me and, as a coach, I can’t let that happen. I don’t know if we lost confidence, but it put us in a rut. I was just happy we got the win. If we want to win the conference, we have to win.”
The Rockets are 21st this week in the MaxPreps Adjusted Rankings and are currently projected to be the fifth seed in the 3A East playoffs.