FOUR OAKS — South Johnston and Cleveland split the varsity basketball games on Tuesday night. In the boys game, South Johnston got a game-winning 3-pointer from junior Dylan Bates to win 51-50 and stay in sole possession of second place in the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference. In the girls game, Cleveland picked up a 46-41 win to continue their three game winning streak and maintain sole possession of third place in the conference.
The Trojans (17-2, 4-1 GNRC) got their second straight game winning shot as junior Jeremiah McLean tipped in a last-second shot last Friday to beat East Wake.
“I tell these guys, we can’t rely one or two guys to do everything for us,” South Johnston head coach Brody Massengill said. “We’re confident. We’re getting there.”
The Rams (12-7, 2-3 GNRC) held a 48-44 lead with less than a minute left. Cleveland seniors Austin Robinson and Zack Matthews each missed one of two free throws in the final minute to give the Trojans a chance.
“We make our free throws at the end and we win the ball game,” Cleveland head coach Jeff Davis said. “I’m very, very proud of them, but that’s a huge loss. That’s a huge, huge loss. We did everything right but hit free throws.”
Had the Rams won, it would’ve created a three-way tie for second, but instead Cleveland is now at fourth place alone. Their Friday night matchup with East Wake (11-7, 3-2 GNRC) could help them pull into a tie for third as they are squarely on the bubble for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs.
The two last second wins for the Trojans have now set the stage for South’s contest with Clayton (17-2, 5-0 GNRC) on Friday to be for first place in the conference. The Trojans now control their own destiny and winning out would give them a share of the conference crown.
CJ Ray, reigning conference player of the year, led all scorers with 22 points including 11 in the fourth quarter as well giving Bates the assist on the game winning 3-pointer. Bates finished with nine points while senior Colby Norris had 11 points.
Cleveland’s Trey Fields led the Rams with 15 points and in the postgame interview Massengill lauded Fields for his hustle and play. Junior Walter Ghaffar punched in 11 points and Austin Robinson tallied eight points.
Freshman point guard Brooklyn Waller led Cleveland to the win as she picked up her first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Sage Farmer also put in 10 points for the Rams (8-11, 3-2 GNRC). South Johnston junior Janay McDonald led all scorers with 13 points. The Trojans (4-14, 0-5 GNRC) have lost five straight.
South Johnston held a three point lead after the first quarter, but couldn’t maintain the level of play that got them the lead.
“We had a lot of opportunities, under the basket opportunities where we should’ve finished our layups,” South Johnston head coach Whitney Williams said. “We missed out on a lot of easy opportunities.”
Cleveland will now play East Wake (10-8, 4-1 GNRC) on Friday, who is currently holding on to second place. A win would put Cleveland in a tie for second which would guarantee a playoff bid. First year head coach Robby White said that’s what the Rams are focused on.
“It’s going to be a battle,” White said. “Second place means playoffs, so that’s what we’re looking for. We got a chance to get there on Friday.”