High school girls basketball: Hornets win regional, head to another title game

Published 5:09 pm Saturday, March 4, 2023

By Mike London

GREENSBORO — The Salisbury girls basketball team will play in another 2A state championship game.

It will be the seventh championship appearance in the last 20 seasons for what has been an amazing program. The Hornets are 5-1 in title games, prevailing in 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2022. Salisbury lost a championship struggle in overtime in 2006.

The third-seeded Hornets punched their ticket for another trip to the Triangle with a grinding 43-37 2A West Regional final against fifth-seeded East Burke on Saturday at Grimsley High in Greensboro.

“We did it with defense, well, defense and rebounding,” said Salisbury coach Lakai Brice after the Hornets won for the third time in the playoffs while scoring in the 40s. “This is a hard-working team. They’ve put in the work it takes to be very good on defense.”

Mary Morgan took three charges to spark the defensive effort. Morgan didn’t score, but once again she was about as important as anyone on the floor.

“Somehow Mary is always in the right position,” teammate Kyla Bryant said. “Always.”

Icecis Nwafor and MaKayla Noble made critical shots. Bryant controlled the game with her poised ball-handling and settled the outcome at the foul line.

The streaky Nwafor got the Hornets started. She splashed two early 3-pointers and scored eight in a hurry to carry the Hornets to an 11-10 lead after a quarter.

“Icesis has been getting us started fast like that a lot,” Bryant said.

The Hornets held East Burke to five points in the second quarter, got a five-point flurry by Bryant for some separation and carried a 23-15 lead to the break.

“Foul trouble hurt us some,” Bryant said. “We couldn’t be as aggressive as we wanted to be, and they were able to stay close to us.”

Noble canned back-to-back 3-pointers as Salisbury surged ahead by as many as a dozen points in the third quarter, but East Burke (27-3), which had ousted No. 1 seed Randleman, showed resilience and refused to be knocked out.

“We kind  of hit a standstill there in the third quarter, didn’t execute on offense as well as we should have, and we gave them a chance to come back on us,” Brice said.

East Burke clawed back to a 31-25 deficit by the end of the third quarter, and kept coming.

With Salisbury’s lead down to 34-32 with 1:22 left and East Burke fans roaring, Noble made what may have been the toughest shot of her career, a spinning bank shot from 17 feet, as she was clobbered.

That remarkable 2-pointer left jaws hanging and ended a Salisbury drought.

With the game tied at 36-all with a minute left, Nwafor made the game’s most crucial play, after Noble slipped a super pass to her inside. Nwafor missed the initial layup attempt, but she stayed with it, bounced high for the rebound and got the stick-back to fall, as she was being fouled.

“Icecis had another lights-out game,” Brice said. “Great job again on defense and she gave us the points and rebounds we had to have.”

Bryant was money at the foul line down the stretch. She hadn’t had a great game, had missed some jumpers and drives she normally will make, but she calmly hit five clutch free throws to finish off East Burke.

“We put the ball in Kyla’s hands at the end, and we feel good any time we can get her to the foul line,” Brice said.

That’s been a winning formula for Salisbury for four seasons. Four-year starters Bryant and Morgan are 16-2 in playoff games.

Btyant and Noble scored 14 each, while Nwafor got 13 for the Hornets. Haley Dalton had one bucket and altered a lot of shots on the defensive end .

Braelyn Stillwell, a creative guard, scored 15 for East Burke.

East Burke bigs Kara Brinkley (9) and Aubree Grigg (8) combined for 17.

Salisbury (26-3) will take a 15-game winning streak into the state title game next Saturday.

“Just proud of them all right now,” Brice said. “We don’t have the kind of depth we had last year, but this team is close. They play so well together. This has been an amazing team.”

The Hornets will play Seaforth for the 2A state championship on Saturday.

That game will be played at 5 p.m. at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

East Burke   10   5   10    12   — 37

Salisbury      11   12   8     12    — 43

Salisbury — Bryant 14, Noble 14, Nwafor 13, Dalton 2, Morgan, Arnold.