BY JOHN KRAHNERT
Win No. 20 was a special one for the Union Pines girls’ basketball team, especially its six seniors.
Friday marked Senior Night in Cameron, and the team’s close-knit group of seniors playing in its final regular season home game enjoyed a 38-19 victory over Southern Lee. The win improved the Lady Vikes to 20-3 on the season and 9-2 in the Cape Fear Valley Conference. They’re looking to keep pace with Western Harnett, which is still in first place in the league standings (9-1 CFVC) after beating Gray’s Creek Friday.
Though it was certainly a night for the seniors, it was a sophomore that stepped up and paced the team. Tyler Ross was a handful down low, scoring 18 points to lead all scorers. Senior guard Tyesha McLean finished with 11 points, while fellow seniors Tashi Whitney, Cristina Morcom and Ebony Walker finished with four, three and two respectively.
“All special, there’s no doubt about it,” coach John Lewkowicz said of his seniors after the game. “Of course, Tyesha, I’ve had her for four years. She was my first real true freshman, and I’m going to miss her, there’s no doubt about it, but I’m going to miss them all. They’ve been really special. We still have a lot of basketball to go and we’re still counting on our seniors. They’re really good leaders.”
The Lady Vikings looked a little tight to start the game, but solid defense made things happen. The Lady Cavs managed only two points in the first quarter — which came on a pair of free throws — and had just six by halftime. McLean scored the team’s first four points, followed by bucket and a free throw by Morcom to get things started with a 7-0 run.
In the second quarter, Ross took over the game, scoring 10 of the team’s 11 points to put the home team out front 20-6.
The closest Southern Lee managed to get in the second half was 10 before Union Pines pulled away, leading by as much as 20 in the fourth quarter. Walker followed a missed shot and scored at the end of the game, getting a nice ovation from the crowd.
“Offensively, we were kind of a little loose with the ball,” Lewkowicz said. “We weren’t as sharp as we usually are offensively. But I thought we played good defense. I thought we rebounded well. The main thing is, we got the ‘W’, that’s the thing.”
Briana Jenkins led Southern Lee with six points, while Caroline Bunnell and Yasmine Butler each had four.
After the game, McLean, Morcom, Whitney, Walker, Kelly Campbell and team manager Shaniquewa Jackson were honored as part of the Senior Night ceremony. McLean was also presented a plaque for joining the 1,000-point club earlier this season.
Afterwards, the girls reflected on what was an emotional night.
“All of our seniors had to step up and play a big role,” Whitney said. “I’m just glad to be with this team. I wouldn’t rather play with any other team right now. We’re going to finish the season out strong and go as far as we can.”
Added Campbell, “Tonight felt like no other. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in this world. And even though we played not so well, we still won and we kept our heads up high. The seniors stepped up and I think we just played our hearts out.”
But it’s clear this team isn’t going to dwell on the past. It’s focused on trying to catch Western Harnett for the regular season crown and then making a run in the postseason.
“I think we’re just ready to get through this,” Morcom said, “and I’m glad we won tonight so we can battle Western Harnett for conference.”
The Lady Vikes were ranked 10th in the latest 3A NCPreps media poll released this week.
The Union Pines boys gave Southern Lee, currently ranked seventh in the latest NCPreps 3A media poll, a hard time during Friday’s contest before ultimately falling 80-66.
The Vikings (6-17, 3-8 YVC) got off to a fast start and led by as much as nine midway through the first quarter thanks to a balanced scoring attack from Parris Manning, Matthew Maness, Braxton Ross, Kendrick McRae and Garrison Peele — a captain and the team’s lone senior who was recognized before the game.
But the Cavaliers diligently chipped away at the Vike advantage, eventually taking it back on an Ace Chalmers three-pointer right before the half. The visitors led 36-34 at the break.
Chalmers’ bomb set off a chain reaction of threes — the Cavs hit three more in the first two minutes of the third quarter — to help them establish control of the game. The two-point halftime advantage turned into a 14-point lead by the end of the period.
But the Vikings refused to lay down. Strong play by Manning and Ross working the lead back down to six with about five minutes to go in the game before Southern Lee pulled away again. The lead ballooned back up to 18 before the Cavs put their reserves in.
Manning finished with a game-high 27 points for Union Pines. Ross finished with 14, while Maness had 11, McRae nine and Peele five.
Josh Mellette led Southern Lee with 25 points. Chalmers had 17 and Sharrod Toomer had 11.
Both the U.P. girls’ and boys’ have a date with Douglas Byrd on the road to wrap up the CFVC regular season Tuesday.
Contact John Krahnert III at email@example.com.