FOUR OAKS -- Cleveland’s victory over South Johnston on Tuesday night was special for a couple of reasons for girls basketball coach Chris Danehower.
For starters, it was a gratifying victory for his young basketball team. After coming close in numerous games and often coming up short, they used a strong second half to turn back South Johnston on the road, 33-28. And, oh by the way, it was career victory No. 200 for the 12th-year coach.
“We’ve had so many close games,” Danehower said. “We just had to get over that hump. We just felt like nothing was going to go right for us. We had a team meeting yesterday and talked about the things we needed to do to put ourselves in the best position to win games.
“We took the focus off of winning, but we talked about the little things to do. All those little things added up tonight and we just made plays.”
The little thing added up to a big win for Danehower. In his third year at Cleveland after nine seasons at Athens Drive, he improved to 200-109 as a head coach.
“It’s been a long journey,” Danehower said. “But it’s not about me, it’s about them. All the kids that played for me, it’s about them.”
Danehower didn’t tell his players about the possible milestone before the game. But he did after the Rams won to improve to 6-15 and 3-7 in the Eastern Carolina 3A Conference.
With five freshmen and two sophomores on his roster, it was one of the young players who stepped up against South Johnston. Sophomore guard Brittany Preston scored all 12 of her points in the second half, including eight straight points for Cleveland in an 8-2 Rams run that gave Cleveland a 29-22 lead with 5:30 left in the game. That was part of an offensive turnaround for the Rams, who scored only one point in the second quarter and trailed 12-9 at halftime.
“We told them at halftime that we were getting good shots and they just weren’t going in,” Danehower said. “We told them that they would start falling in the second half and they believed it. And we picked up our defensive intensity, switched on all the ball screens. … In the second half, we picked it up to a new level.”
For South Johnston (6-12, 4-5), it was a setback in the Trojans’ bid to make the postseason. Entering the game, South was a half-game out of fourth place in the conference and a game out of second place.
“We really needed tonight because Cleveland was under us (in the standings),” South Johnston coach Rhonda Johnson said. “Depending what happens in the next three games, everybody is right there fighting for second, third and fourth.”
The conference sends four teams to the playoffs.
“Tonight, we just couldn’t get it going offensively,” Johnson said. “You can’t score 28 points and beat a decent team. Cleveland had only won two conference games before tonight but that was not a reflection on how good they are.”
South Johnston was led by freshman guard Anna Webster with 11 points.
But the night belonged to Cleveland’s young Rams, a team that finally found a way to get over that hump. And give its coach a milestone victory.
“We just haven’t been scoring enough points to win,” Danehower said. “Tonight, we made our shots in the second half and we competed all the way through.”