Rocky Mount High guard Emmanuel Spruill reacts following the Gryphons' loss to Cedar Ridge in the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs first-round game Tuesday at Rocky Mount High School.
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Telegram photo / Adam Jennings

Rocky Mount High guard Emmanuel Spruill reacts following the Gryphons' loss to Cedar Ridge in the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs first-round game Tuesday at Rocky Mount High School.

Rocky Mount High girls advance with ease; boys fall in final minute

By FOSTER LANDER

Sports Writer

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In one sense, this year's Rocky Mount High team was relieved to not become the first Mike Gainey-coached group to miss the state playoffs, and that was evident by the way the Gryphons started Tuesday's game in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs, falling behind 12-2 in the opening minutes.

In another sense, though, the 16th-seeded Gryphons feel like they missed a golden opportunity to pull an upset over No. 17 Hillsborough Cedar Ridge, which finished the regular season 17-9.

Rocky Mount High, which trailed by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, rallied to have two shots to take the lead or tie inside the final 20 seconds on Tuesday. Spencer Ramsey's corner 3 with 16.6 seconds left and the Gryphons trailing by just one was too long, and Isaiah Morris's contested 3 from the top of the key with four seconds remaining and his team down three clanged off the back rim, allowing Cedar Ridge to escape with an 81-77 victory.

"It showed how tough we really are as a team and how much of a team we are, not just individuals," Rocky Mount High junior forward Sherrod Greene said. "This was a great journey, playing with these guys. To come this far and lose is no fun. We made three big mistakes that cost us at the end."

The Gryphons managed to turn the final 1:54 of the fourth quarter into a free-throw shooting contest for Cedar Ridge. After any made basket, Rocky Mount High would foul Red Wolves players before the inbounds pass to preserve time, and it helped the Gryphons stay close.

After Cedar Ridge's Jacob Thomas hit two of two free throws with 36.3 seconds left for a 78-74 lead, Gryphons guard Emmanuel Spruill, who scored a team-high 18, drilled a 3 from the wing to get Rocky Mount High within one.

Rocky Mount High then fouled Cedar Ridge big man Jonathan Hall with 25.5 ticks remaining. He missed both, and Greene grabbed the defensive rebound. The Gryphons worked the ball ahead to a wide-open Spencer Ramsey in the corner in front of Rocky Mount High's student section, but Ramsey, who had hit three 3-pointers from nearly the same spot at the other end of the floor, couldn't hit.

Peyton Pappas, who poured in a game-high 33 points for Cedar Ridge, hit one of two free throws for a 79-77 lead, then made a game-saving play near midcourt, ripping the ball from Spruill as he dribbled up court.

Morris, who Gainey estimated attempted three 3-pointers all season, nearly made his contested look from deep that would have tied the game at 80 with four seconds left, but it fell no good.

"I think we lost focus tonight," Gainey said. "Got there at the end, and took three ill-advised shots. We weren't very mindful of the situations, but they'll learn. These guys got a chance to see that we have to learn the game better. These guys get caught in the crowd, mom and dad, that sort of thing, but they're young."

Early on, the visitors from Hillsborough looked as though they came to win and win big against a Rocky Mount High team that entered the playoffs with a 7-15 record. The Red Wolves raced to a 7-0 lead and led by nine after one quarter, despite a 10-2 Gryphons run.

"I'm thinking that we're going to get run out of the gym," Gainey said. "When they've got a kid like (Pappas), we threw everything but the kitchen sink at him and he still found ways to get to the basket. It was rattling us. We couldn't get ourselves together, couldn't get inside rebounds, couldn't get stops, it disrupted everything we tried to do."

The Gryphons settled for 3s too often in a stretch of the fourth quarter where Cedar Ridge build its nine-point advantage. Gainey said his team was able to get back into the game by being the aggressor more often and by attacking the basket, but the Gryphons could never make that one final play to get over the hump and complete their comeback.

In a losing effort, Kyle Barnhill scored 15 for Rocky Mount High. Artavious Richardson added 11 and Greene scored 10, while Ramsey finished with nine.

Jacob Thomas scored 23 for the Red Wolves, who advanced to face top-seeded Eastern Alamance in the second round on Thursday.

GIRLS

RM HIGH 54

LEE COUNTY 31

Rocky Mount High coach Pam Gainey wishes the Gryphons would start every quarter like they have started the first quarter in recent games, but beggars can't be choosers.

Gainey's team followed the same pattern that helped it win the Big East conference tournament: build a big lead, play strong defense, repeat.

The14th-seeded Gryphons led by 10 after one period on Tuesday and pulled away from there to rout No. 19 Lee County, 54-31, in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs.

Keyanna Spivey led Rocky Mount High with 22 points, and Michelle Gainey added 17 (nine in the first quarter).

Rocky Mount High held Yellow Jackets leading scorer Shantel Bennett to 12, though Lee County got 16 from Amoria Neal-Tysor.

"We took what they gave us and were able to hit shots early, which helped us settle down and run our stuff," Pam Gainey said.

When Michelle Gainey banked in a deep 3-pointer at the first quarter buzzer, Lee County coach Gabriel Reynolds turned to the row of padded, folding chairs serving as the Yellow Jackets' bench and smacked a chair with both palms. There was not much Reynolds could do all night, though; the Gryphons were clicking.

Rocky Mount High scored the first five points of the second quarter, on a layup from Spivey and a 3 from the wing from Shelby Meeks for a 24-9 lead, and Lee County never got closer than 13 from that point onwards.

Outside of the 28 combined points from Bennett and Neal-Tysor, Lee County got just three points from the rest of its roster. Rocky Mount High played physical defense and contested every shot the Yellow Jackets took.

"I knew their guard play was good and that they could score, and I knew that we were going to need to be defensively sound," Pam Gainey said. "We had some lapses defensively, but I think for the most part, we're beginning to communicate a little bit better, and we're benefitting from that."

Rocky Mount High will go on the road Thursday to face No. 3 Rockingham County.

Foster Lander can be reached at 407-9951 or flander@rmtelegram.com

Comments

Proud

of my child for trying so hard. Seen the games last night wit my homegirl. RM couldnt handle they little white boy. He were real fast.

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