ERWIN The budding rivalry between the Cleveland and Triton girls’ basketball teams grew another layer deeper on Monday when Triton defeated the Rams 50-45 in overtime in the first round of the NCHSAA state playoffs.
The meeting was the fourth of the season between the teams and resulted in the end of the line for Cleveland and a second-round date with West Craven for Triton on Wednesday.
A pair of Brittany Preston free throws tied the game for Cleveland at 37 apiece with 56 seconds remaining and, following a Triton turnover, the Rams got the ball back with 42 seconds left and a chance for their first state playoff win in two years. Cleveland (10-15) managed to get off three shots in the waning seconds but came up empty, forcing overtime despite never holding a lead in the final 5:35 of regulation.
“We were really trying to run our motion offense and get the ball reversed and get it inside. We had some good attacks there, we just didn’t finish,” Cleveland coach Chris Danehower said. “That’s kind of indicative of the stuff we’ve had all season. We’ve put ourselves into positions but we just can’t get that rebound that we need and get that putback and get that finish.”
After going the final 1:44 of regulation without a field goal, Cleveland was then held without a bucket for the first 3:08 of overtime as the Hawks (13-13) opened up a seven-point lead, the largest of the game for either team.
The Rams trailed 48-45 and had the ball with 24 seconds left when Preston was whistled for a charging call and the Hawks closed it out at the free throw line.
Cleveland took both regular season meetings between the Two Rivers 3A schools but the Hawks broke through with a 50-46 victory over the Rams on Thursday in the conference tournament on their way to winning the tourney. By virtue of that win, Triton earned the home court advantage for Monday’s showdown.
“We have a really great rivalry going. This is the fourth out of five games over the last two years that has come down to the last possession or overtime. This is a great rivalry and this is a tough place to play,” Danehower said. “The kids played hard and left it all on the floor and I’m proud of that.”
Watkins scored 12 points to lead the young Rams, who lose only Courtney Morris to graduation. The 10 Cleveland players combined for just eight years of varsity playing experience.
“We’re really young. It’s the youngest team I’ve ever coached with the hardest schedule,” Danehower said. “I’m really proud of what we did this year. We grew up a lot. A lot of these close games we didn’t win but we put ourselves in positions to win them.”