Deep roots to rivalry
By Mike London
Fifty years ago, East Rowan and West Rowan didn’t exist, but the roots of the girls basketball rivalry between the schools may have been planted by the 1956-57 season’s amazing matchups between Cleveland and Granite Quarry.
The scoring duels in the Rowan County Basketball League between Cleveland Eaglette Sandra Somers and Granite Quarry Dragonette Ellen Wilson were fascinating, even when you consider the rules were vastly different from today’s.
Girls in the 1950s played 6-on-6 basketball, and talented offensive forwards were basically playing halfcourt games of 3-on-3 against opposing defensive specialists.
Somers, a sophomore on her way to a 2,377-point career, poured in 73 points to lead Cleveland to a 92-82 victory in its first league showdown with Granite Quarry. Wilson, a junior headed for a 2,303-point career, answered with 71 points in a losing cause in her home gym.
Granite’s defenders held Somers to 42 points in the rematch at Cleveland, and the Dragonettes stormed from behind for an 89-86 victory. Wilson tallied 81, including all 50 of her team’s points in the first half.
The rubber game came in the Rowan County Basketball League tournament championship matchup on Feb. 23. The game was played in the Boyden High gym, and the neutral venue would factor in the outcome.
Granite Quarry led by five points after three quarters, but after defensive stoppers Phyllis Sealy and Barbara Bernhardt fouled out in the fourth quarter, Somers started scoring at will.
Cleveland caught up with 1:18 left, then took a 73-71 lead on a basket by Somers.
Wilson answered to tie it.
Somers scored her 53rd point of the night and 18th point of the fourth quarter with 39 seconds left to hand Cleveland a 75-73 lead.
The real craziness started when Granite’s Joyce Roseman was fouled with 27 seconds left. Roseman sank the one free throw she was awarded. Then the Dragonettes, trailing 75-74, were given the ball out of bounds.
The ball was inbounded to Wilson, who had scored 58 points. She glanced at the scoreboard — the teams were labeled “Home” and “Visitor” — mistakenly thought her team was ahead by one point and started dribbling out the clock. Both coaches — Cleveland’s George Robinson and Granite’s Jim Barringer — must have been frantic. Barringer managed to convey to Wilson with 10 seconds left that her team was actually behind.
Wilson heaved a long push shot from beyond the key and missed. The rebound was struggled for, went out of bounds and was deemed to have been touched last by a Granite player.
The clock was down to its final ticks. Roseman intercepted Cleveland’s inbounds pass, but the buzzer sounded before she could attempt a shot.
Cleveland claimed the championship trophy and the right to represent Rowan County in the Granite Belt Tournament held at the Concord Recreation Center, but the Odell squad had the Eaglettes well-scouted.
Odell swarmed all over Somers and limited her to 15 points. Martha Graham stepped up with 37 points — her second-best game of the season — but Cleveland lost 73-58 and its season was over.
Somers amassed 729 points in Cleveland’s 16 games. She averaged 45.6 points a game and scored at least 40 points in 10 consecutive outings.