Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
In the last minute of the first quarter during Monday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A first-round playoff game with Big East Conference foe Franklinton, Hunt High’s Imani Sutton took a charge and immediately retreated into the hallway.
When she returned from having the wind knocked out of her, the Red Rams were ill-equipped to handle a Sutton with full use of her lungs.
Sutton became the second Hunt player this season to eclipse the 1,000-point mark for her career, doing it before halftime and breaking open what was a slow start for the Lady Warriors en route to a 58-39 win.
Defeating the Red Rams for the third time in 15 days, Hunt, the No. 10 seed in the East region, climbed to 18-7 and visits No. 7 Clayton in Thursday’s second round after the Comets dispensed with No. 26 Vance County.
Sutton’s 25 points brought her into the 1,000-point club alongside senior teammate Bria Griffith, who pulled off the feat earlier this season and was recognized pregame.
Franklinton, the No. 23 seed, finished at 12-13.
With Hunt clinging to a 19-17 lead in the second quarter, Sutton authored her own personal 8-0 run, getting a three-point play and finishing a transition layup off Griffith’s pass. The lead climbed into double digits at halftime once Sutton split a pair of Franklinton defenders and got a runner to drop while being fouled. She made the free throw, prompting the post-buzzer announcement of reaching the 1,000-point mark.
“I’m really proud of her work ethic tonight,” Hunt head coach Tiffany Parks said of Sutton. “I think she did a good job getting the ball to her teammates, too. Not only did she score, but she also did really well passing it off.”
Griffith tallied a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, while handing out six assists. The Red Rams briefly crept to within nine at 31-22, but Griffith replied with back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead back out and prompt a Franklinton timeout with 4:31 left in the third.
“I think the second half, we came out a little stronger than we did the first half,” Parks said. “Physically, we were a more in-shape team, because it showed once we started putting more pressure on them. They just kind of fell apart.”
Franklinton, led by Katherine Wilkins’ 19 points, trailed 43-31 in the fourth quarter. Wilkins showed little hesitancy to throw up a high volume of shots, making a handful and getting to the line. However, the misses often fueled Hunt runouts and allowed Griffith and Sutton to thrive in transition.
“I was just wanting to come back harder,” Sutton said of leaving the game. “They couldn’t stop me, no matter what. Once I hit two in a row, I feel like nobody can stop me. I’ll just keep going until I fall out.”
A 13-2 surge, with Hunt’s pressure leading the way, staked the hosts to a 54-33 cushion and ended any hope of a Franklinton rally. Griffith and Sutton again came to the forefront to bury the Red Rams with Hunt’s late run.
“It’s kind of tough to explain that to colleges looking at one player, why their points aren’t higher,” Parks assessed of the pair. “Well, when you have two players that are scoring big numbers, it’s kind of hard to get the numbers higher. Then, they share the ball with Kayla (Haley) and (Brianna) Tucker and Dylia (Lucas). I think it’s just a testament to an all-around game.”
The Lady Warriors led by as many as 23, with Parks lifting the starters for the final time with just under two minutes remaining, a ticket to Clayton long since punched.
“I think they’ll do fine as long as they play team basketball,” Parks assured.
Wilkins 19, Massenburg, Smith 5, Jeffreys, Mabrey 2, Cornell 9, Duffie 4.
Griffith 14, McNeil 6, Smith 2, Mercer, Haley 3, Tucker 6, McNair, Sutton 25, Lucas 2.
Score by quarters:
Franklinton 11 6 10 12 — 39
Hunt 9 18 14 17 — 58