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CLAYTON — The Hunt girls basketball team, seeded No. 10 in the East Region, went after seventh-seeded Clayton early in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs Thursday night.
The host Comets could never quite recover from the initial attack in a 63-39 season-ending loss.
“We were just hitting some shots,” Hunt head coach Tiffany Parks said of the start that gave her team a 12-point lead after the first quarter. “We had some really good looks on the weak side and we were attacking the basket really well.”
As underdogs on the road, it was important for the Lady Warriors (19-7), runners-up from the 3-A Big East Conference, to set the pace and get out ahead of the Comets (21-5), who captured a share of the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference championship, in the first quarter.
“We know that if we start off strong, then we can have a complete game,” Hunt senior Bria Griffith said. “Just knowing that starting off on the right foot is a good way to start the game. We try to focus on that.”
Senior Brianna Tucker led the Warriors with seven points in the opening quarter to achieve that goal offensively, while the defense held Clayton leading scorer Darrionna Howard without a point. Once that power dynamic was set, it was hard to break.
In the second quarter, Griffith got rolling and scored seven points to end the first half with a game-high 12 points.
After being outscored by five in the second quarter, Clayton went into halftime hoping to make adjustments that could take a 17-point deficit and make it more digestible, around half the size, in the third quarter.
“I told the young ladies coming out of halftime, we were down, I want to say (17), let’s use this quarter to cut the lead to eight,” Clayton head coach Marlon Lee said. “And then we will win the game in the fourth.”
Only the game plan did not come to fruition as Hunt stood pat in the second half. Clayton debuted a much more aggressive defensive front in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to make much of a dent in the Lady Warriors’ lead. After intially cutting the deficit to 11 at the start of the third quarter, Hunt recovered to lead by 18 entering the fourth.
With just a five-point effort in the final quarter, the inability to make progress in the third set up a fourth quarter that again belonged to the visiting program. The offense fell off quickly once an invigorated home team found no viable path to getting back in the game.
But Hunt finished with a complete performance, dominating on offense and defense and moving on to a huge third-round matchup Saturday at Rocky Mount.
Hunt advances to the third round for the second straight season and just the third time in school history. But in order to reach the uncharted territory of the fourth round, the Lady Warriors will have to take down the second-seeded Lady Gryphons, the Big East champs who just handed Hunt a 75-63 loss in the conference tournament final last Friday, Feb. 21. The Lady Warriors, who also lost at home to Rocky Mount, did take a 55-51 win Jan. 31 on the Lady Gryphons’ floor, where Saturday’s game will be played.
Rocky Mount beat No. 18 Burlington Walter M. Williams 71-58 at home Thursday night.
Griffith finished with a game-high 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks to lead Hunt. Tucker represented the only other scorer in double figures, with 12 points and three rebounds.
On the other hand, a disappointing loss leaves plenty for the young players on the Comets to consider before taking the court next year. Maybe a chance to think about what went wrong could even lead to a big rematch this time next season.
“I’m just going to work harder and come back with a different game next year and hopefully we go against Hunt again,” said Howard, who finished with a team-high 14 points. “I’ll show them something different.”
Griffith 19, McNeil 3, Tucker 12, Sutton 6, Lucas 8, Haley 8, Mercer 5, McNair 2.
Howard 14, Washington 7, Watkins 6, Best 4, Eaves 3, Henninger 5.
Score by quarters:
Hunt 22 17 13 11 — 63
Clayton 10 12 12 5 — 39