Three double-digit losses to the same opponent would plant a seed of doubt in most team’s minds.
But this is the four-time defending NCISAA 2-A champs we’re talking about.
And that seed never had a chance of sprouting.
The fourth basketball game between the Carolina Day girls (19-6) and Rabun Gap (Ga.) proved to be the charm for the Wildcats on Saturday.
Ralene Kwiatkowski, who has missed a good chunk of this season with a leg injury, poured in a game-high 20 points. And fellow sophomore Casey Yarborough sank one of two foul shots with 5.7 seconds to go, which was the difference in a 48-47 win on the Georgia team’s home floor.
Tess Harris added eight points.
“I was pretty nervous, but I tried not to think about it,” Yarborough said.
“We knew it was the last chance we were going to get to play (Rabun Gap) and that we had to lay it all on the line.”
“A lot of people didn’t think we could do it, but we knew we could,” Kwiatkowski added.
“We really worked hard on improving our defense since the last time we played (Rabun Gap), especially defending the pick-and-roll. It really made a difference.”
Indeed, the Eagles (23-5) are the top-seeded 3-A girls team for this week’s NCISAA tournament in the Asheville area, while the Wildcats are the top seed in 2-A.
Their first meeting of the season was a 47-34 win for Rabun Gap in the Wells Fargo Holiday Classic on Dec. 31 at UNC Aheville.
The Eagles then blew out the visiting Wildcats, 60-33, on January 13 and ruined their Senior Night, 69-52, on Feb. 4.
Eagles guard Meona Feather scored 37 points in the third game, but was limited to 16 on Saturday. And despite jumping out to a 26-14 lead, Rabun Gap could not hold on.
“We’ve finally gotten healthy,” Carolina Day coach Joe Carrington said.
“We’ve haven’t really had our team intact since well before Christmas. It seems like it’s been something all the time. But the kids put together a full game (on Saturday). They picked a good weekend to play their best basketball.”
Harris, who is a junior, is averaging a team-high 15.7 points per game, followed by Kwiatkowski (11.6 ppg.), Mikayla Ray (8.8 ppg.) and Cheyenne Bunner (8.2).
Ray’s rebounding average (8.8) matches her scoring output. Bunner (5.5), Harris (5.4), Yarborough (4.9) and Kwiatkowski (4.0) also average four or more boards per game.
Assists leaders are Kwiatkowski (4.9), Harris (3.9) and Emily Crawford (3.5), while Kwiatkowski (3.5), Harris (2.3) and Crawford (2.3) have made the most steals.
Carolina Day could host as many as two games in the NCISAA 2-A tournament before Saturday’s championship round at Asheville School. The Wildcats await the winner of No. 8 Saint David’s (21-3) and No. 9 Cary Christian (15-11) for Thursday’s 10 a.m. quarterfinal game.
“We came together and played our hardest (on Saturday). It felt great,” Harris said.
“We’re playing great right now and the momentum (going into the NCISAA 2-A tournament) is good. It’s a big help having here in Asheville. Our entire school will get a chance to come out and the energy should help us.”
Carolina Day began its current state-championship streak under Carrington the last time the NCISAA tournament was in town (2011).
Boys and girls games will also be played at Asheville Christian Academy and Christ School over the course of three days.
“We won our first one in a similar setting and since then we’ve been on the road the last three times,” Carrington said.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a good crowd out for all the games. I know this for sure, there is going to be a lot of good basketball.”
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