WENDELL — Rivalries tend to bring out the best, and sometimes the worst, in teams.
It brought out both in the clash of the East Wake and Knightdale girls basketball teams on Thursday, which saw the Warriors eke out a 44-41 Greater Neuse River 4A Conference victory.
For the Warriors, the outcome clinched second place in league action with a 12-2 mark while raising their overall record to 20-3. Knightdale, looking to earn a tie with the Warriors, instead slipped to 16-6 overall finished a solid third in the GNRC at 9-4.
The game featured raw emotion, and subsequently high turnover totals and low shooting percentages.
The teams combined for 40 turnovers. East Wake made only 13-of 54 attempts for a meager 25.9 percent while Knightdale managed a little better, draining 15-of-47 for 31.9 percent.
“It’s a win,” said Warriors coach Toni Vick. “Knightdale did play hard, so I can give them credit. But we played hard too – we worked hard on defense to keep them from scoring.”
Among the Knights’ buckets were a quartet of 3-pointers by Lovely Locklear, who led all scorers with 18 points. But the Warriors were able to get key rebounds in the final minute, including two on the back end of their own free throw opportunities to hold on to a slim lead.
Ahead 41-38 with 52.1 seconds left in the game, the Warriors got their first key rebound when Angel Rizor swooped under the basket, corralled the charity miss by Ciera Williams and hit a touch shot for a 43-38 cushion.
After a Locklear free throw drew the Knights to within 43-39, the Warriors found themselves on the charity stripe again – only to see Shamara Richardson come up empty on the double bonus but claim her own rebound at mid-court after the second miss.
“That’s been our problem all year long,” Knights coach Trent Bunn said. “Boxing out on the rebounding. Luckily we have some time before the playoffs so we can work on it.”
That rebound resulted in Williams returning to the free throw line, where she hit her second attempt for a 44-39 lead with 22 seconds left.
Knightdale was doomed, but not done trying. Mikaya Wilson hit a pair of free throws to draw the Knights within 44-41, and Locklear stole the ball in the backcourt to give her team new life.
Rikayla Person then fired and missed from 3-point range and was fouled fighting for the rebound. She missed both foul shots, however, and Richardson came up with the rebound.
“We rebounded hard,” Vick said. “We didn’t want to give them a chance to get back down the floor and score in transition.”
The Warriors tried to run out the clock, but Richardson was fouled with 7.8 seconds to play. She came up empty at the line and Knightdale claimed the rebound. The Knights passed on a wide-open 3-point opportunity, opting instead for a play in the paint that never materialized at the buzzer.
“I think there was a little miscommunication at the end,” Bunn said.
While East Wake led for a majority of the contest, neither team managed more than a 4-point advantage until the final minute. There were four ties and seven lead changes.
Each time the Warriors appeared to have matters under control, Locklear revived the Knights with a perimeter bomb.
“She is in the gym before practice starts, after practice starts, after practice is over,” Bunn said. “I think she is coming into her own and I am very proud of her.”
Nine Warriors tickled the twine, led by Kianna Wynn with 16 points and Rizor with 8. Both played integral parts on defense, with Wynn grabbing 12 rebounds and Rizor adding four.