KNIGHTDALE — East Wake bent slightly, but didn’t break after building a cushion early and being tested late by Knightdale’s girls on Friday.
The 48-38 victory marked the fifth straight for the Warriors (13-2, 5-1 Greater Neuse River 4A) since giving up their only league loss, to Southeast Raleigh. With the rivalry and second place in the conference basketball standings on the line, the game had significance written all over it.
“It was important,” East Wake coach Toni Vick said. “Knightdale played Southeast (Raleigh) tight, so we needed to make sure we played well. We’ve been working on defense, defense, defense and we really did a good job stopping penetration.”
The Knights (12-4, 5-2) trailed by 11 at the half and 17 after three quarters. They cut the deficit to nine points by the final minute of the game, but that proved to be too late.
Knightdale coach Trent Bunn said his team wouldn’t have been in that situation if not for a slow start, which has been the theme of the Knights’ losses this season.
“We wanted it a little bit too late,” Bunn said. “We just didn’t execute and didn’t have any heart. (East Wake) came out on fire, ready to play, and that was the difference in the ballgame.
“We’ve got to get back in the lab and dissect some more things.”
Knightdale was scoreless for the first 4 minutes, 48 seconds, allowing East Wake to go on an 8-0 run ending with a pull-up jumper by sophomore forward Angel Rizor.
The Knights pulled within 10-8 following a crafty dish by sophomore guard Mikaya Wilson and subsequent finish by Persia Brown, a senior forward. East Wake scored the final four points of the first stanza to lead by six.
A driving basket by junior guard Ciera Williams put the Warriors up 18-8 one minute into the second quarter. Williams went on to lead East Wake with 13 points, adding three steals.
“I feel like it’s good for us to come out and make a statement,” Williams said. “I feel like a lot of the teams think we’re the underdogs. We’re here to prove something.”
Williams said she tried to keep her focus up and adrenaline down as Knightdale showed a new intensity in the fourth quarter. A Wilson lay-up made it 41-30, the closest the Knights had been since halftime, with two minutes to play.
Back-to-back scores by Knightdale junior guard Kia Holden – a 3-pointer and a lay-in off a Warriors turnover – made it 44-35 at the 1:08 mark. But East Wake kept cool and did enough at the free throw line, including a pair of hits by Williams, to hold off the Knights down the stretch.
“We just had to be patient when we had the lead, spread the floor and just work the ball,” Williams said.
The lesson Vick took from the game for her players mirrored Williams’ remarks.
“We’ve just got to make sure we know how to keep a lead and not turn the ball over, getting complacent when we’re up,” Vick said. “You don’t stop, because anyone can come back on you.”
Junior guard Lovely Locklear was the only Knightdale player to score in double figures, matching Williams’ 13 points. Junior forward Kianna Wynn added 11 for East Wake.
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews