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KENLY — Facing the win-or-go-home desperation of Beddingfield, host North Johnston High weathered the initial havoc of the Lady Bruins, produced foul trouble on sophomore center Makayla Everette, and used timely free-throw shooting to pull away for a 55-43 victory in the opening round of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference girls baskeball tournament Monday night.
North Johnston, the No. 3 seed, improved to 17-5 and will oppose No. 2 seed Nash Central on Wednesday night in the semifinals at top seed North Pitt. Beddingfield, seeded No. 6 and the first team to defeat a previously unbeaten NJ squad in the regular season, fell to 9-12 and will likely miss the North Carolina High School Athletic Association postseason.
The Lady Bruins had closed to within 39-37 entering the fourth quarter and were within one point at 41-40 on a second-chance bucket from Deija Aikerson, one of three Beddingfield seniors. But North Johnston’s guard play sparked a clinching 9-0 run, and free-throw shooting from sophomore Mackenzie Gibson and senior Tay Jones helped salt the game away over the final 1:12. NJ made 10 of 14 foul tosses in the final period.
“The fourth quarter was huge,” North Johnston head coach Jay Poole said. “We say at halftime, let’s try to win the third quarter, and then of course, we didn’t. So we had to dig out of that hole. But holding them to six points in the fourth quarter was major, and we hit the majority of our free throws.”
Beddingfield’s initial defensive plan involved enacting a “scramble” defense on Jones, which sent a second defender scurrying at the Georgetown University signee when she crossed half-court with the basketball. It had its moments, forcing Jones into ball-handling turnovers and granting the Lady Bruins an early 10-5 cushion. However, the toll was paid in fouls, with Beddingfield whistled nine times in the first quarter alone.
The Lady Panthers led 29-22 at halftime.
North Johnston’s collective defense placed Everette in third-quarter foul trouble. Her fourth personal foul, three off of charges, came at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter with Beddingfield only trailing 33-32. She didn’t return until 5:42 remained in the game and the Lady Panthers leading by two.
Junior Lindsey Massengill and senior Jada Santiago drew the charges, with Santiago responsible for a pair.
“All year, she’s never been called for charging,” Beddingfield head coach Debra Pegram said of Everette. “I think tonight, she had three. I don’t know if she got meaner all of a sudden, or it was judgment. Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
Jones led all scorers with 25 points, while Bullock had 22. The senior backcourt of Bullock and Jakeria Anderson likely played their final games as Lady Bruins.
“They’ll hit a big shot, we’ll have a missed box-out, we’ll have a turnover at the most crucial time,” Pegram reflected on her season. “And here we go.”
J. Anderson 3, Bullock 22, T. Anderson, Dudley, Pope, Everette 10, Sherrod 3, Aikerson 5, Bottoms, Thomas.
NORTH JOHNSTON (55)
Pearce 7, Davis, Hines 2, Santiago 2, Scott 9, Massengill, Gibson 10, Jones 25.
Score by quarters:
North Johnston 14151016—55