On Saturday, the Leesville Road Men’s Basketball team made the hour and fifteen minute drive to Fayetteville State University to take on the South Central Falcons from Greenville, North Carolina in the 4A Eastern Regional Final.
Alex Hunter, senior point guard, was off his usual game on Saturday, but that didn’t matter. Hunter made the one free throw shot that is now one of the biggest shots he’s made in his career. His free throw propelled the Pride to a 44-43 victory over South Central and sent Leesville to the 4A state championship game.
Jonathan Mebane and Jalen Benjamin took over the game Saturday in front of 3,581 fans. The two players combined for 36 of the Pride’s 44 points. “Jalen and Jonathan stepped up, making big plays on the defensive side of the ball which helped us to get going offensively,” said Russ Frazier, head coach of the Pride.
The game started off sloppy for both teams and proved to be a defensive battle in the first half. The Pride caused nine turnovers in the first half, allowing them to keep the game close. Leesville shot only 26% from the floor, something that had to be fixed in the second half in order for the Pride to advance to the state championship. At the end of the first half the game was tied up at 16 a piece.
In the second half, Leesville settled down and played their brand of basketball, moving the ball up and down the court and playing good defense. Hunter picked up his third foul with 5:33 remaining in the third quarter and sat out until the start of the fourth quarter.
Benjamin and Mebane stepped up after Hunter left the game with three fouls. The two combined for 13 points in the third quarter to put the Pride up 32-30 going into the final quarter of play.
Entering the fourth and final quarter, the Pride knew they had eight minutes left to grind it out if they wanted to make it to the state championship game. They were able to do just that and finish off South Central in the fourth quarter. Leesville played solid defense again and Hunter hit the final free throw to punch their ticket into the state championship game this Saturday.
“Those types of games are full of tensions and are a battle to control emotions. I thought we fought and competed to finish the job,” said Frazier. The Pride have played with that battle and fighting mentality throughout the playoffs to get to where they are.
Many fans thought the foul by Shykeim Phillips, South Central guard, was a questionable call. Hunter felt he was fouled lightly and he didn’t think it would be called, but nonetheless the official called the foul and Hunter made one free throw from the line, which was all the Pride needed. The suspense was felt throughout the arena when Hunter went to the line. “All of us on the bench were confident in Alex and knew he’d make at least one free throw. He’s been a great free throw shooter throughout the year and I didn’t doubt him for a second,” said Wesley Zemonek, junior forward.
Capel Arena provided a fantastic atmosphere for the players and coaches to compete in. Throughout the game, the Loonies cheered on their team and gave the players great confidence. “Walking out onto the court for warmups was nerve racking, but once we started doing our normal routine and I made a couple layups and shots I settled in and felt more relaxed. The Loonies were great supporting us all the way through the game — good or bad,” said Zemonek.
The Pride now begin to prepare for the state championship game on Saturday against Southwest Guilford. Frazier and the team came up with a phrase for their playoff run, “One More Day,” which to them means playing every game and practicing everyday to have one more day together.
“In high school sports, you have a chance to earn more time together through the playoffs. The more the players want to be apart of it, along with their effort and work ethic, makes the difference in the end. One more day is what we are playing for. To maximize our time together as a group has been amazing, but there is still work to be done with one game left,” said Frazier.
Leesville Road will make the short trip over to Reynolds Coliseum on Saturday to take on Southwest Guilford in the 4A state championship game at noon. Keep up with the team this week and get updates on the game Saturday on Twitter at @LeesvilleMBB.