By AL MYATT
Triton’s 43-29 win over visiting South Johnston in the semifinals of the Two Rivers 3-A Conference varsity girls basketball tournament didn’t unfold like a matchup between the league’s regular-season champion and a two-win team.
The Lady Hawks (15-10) held a scant 22-21 lead with under four minutes left in the third quarter.
Kathryn Elliott hit a 3-pointer and made two free throws in the remainder of the period to send Triton to the fourth quarter with a 29-25 advantage.
An 11-0 run to start the fourth gave the Lady Hawks breathing room and assured the Triton ladies of hosting the league tournament final tonight.
“We’ve got a young team and being in the playoffs, a lot of them for the first time, they were a little bit nervous,” said Triton coach Keith Howard. “We didn’t play our best basketball until the fourth quarter but the way they’ve been playing in the conference, I knew they’d come through and they did.
“We just need to get better. We understand that we can’t play like that come Friday.”
The Triton girls play Cleveland, a 55-43 winner over Corinth Holders in the first game Wednesday night at Triton, tonight at 6.
Triton and Cleveland split their regular-season meetings with each winning on the road. A Rams’ loss at Corinth enabled the Triton girls to win the regular-season title.
The boys championship will follow the girls final tonight. The boys semifinals Thursday night matched Western Harnett against Corinth Holders and host Triton against South Johnston. Those games had not been completed at press time for this edition.
Allure Smith converted from the low block on assists by Elliott and Anna Marie Tyndall to get the Triton girls started in the fourth quarter.
“We talked about that at halftime,” Howard said. “‘The post is open.’ Allure had to do a better job of getting open. She did that and we saw her in the post. We fed her and she played better.”
Mackenzie Fenn scored nine points and had three steals for Triton. A pair of 3-pointers from Fenn helped provide an 8-2 lead as Triton never trailed.
Elliott had nine points and four assists. Tyndall had eight points, five rebounds and three assists. Sophomore Hannah Jackson and freshman Zoie Starling scored six points each. Jackson had 15 rebounds. Smith totaled five points and seven rebounds.
South (2-21) got 11 points from Mary Ann Brown and 10 from Kelly Dorman. Carmen Keene had three points. Emma Jernigan and Kaylee Creech scored two points apiece. Taylor Lee had one point.
“I thought our girls played great,” said South coach Amanda Smith, who left for the lobby after a second technical foul on bench personnel was charged to an assistant coach. “I told them, ‘Pick your heads up. You played a heckuva ball game. That score doesn’t reflect the effort that you guys put in.’ “That’s kind of been our deal all year, we’re playing hard and we just can’t get some shots to fall at the right times.”
Smith guided the girls basketball team for the first time this season and inherited a talent-depleted program with Anna Webster’s graduation. Smith focused on progress instead of outcomes.
“The weight of the world has been on our shoulders we felt like just in general and we’re doing great things,” Smith said. “All 13 that we’ve had on this team have made improvements every single day and that’s what we wanted them to do.
“We asked them for 110 percent effort and you can have a great attitude. Those are the only two things you can control. I told them, ‘ … you show that and we’re good.’ They stayed composed and I was very proud of them.”
The Trojans tweaked their zone defense and the move was effective until the late stages when Triton was able to locate Allure Smith inside.
“We’ve run the 3-2 mostly all year,” said the Lady Trojans coach. “We decided that widening it out was a little bit better just because we’re playing teams that like to shoot it from the outside and we weren’t getting there quick enough.
“So we widened it out and tried to enforce a little bit of a trap, which was a good thing. It worked for us.”
Coach Smith was a softball star at Triton and Campbell. Now she will direct her attention to the diamond program for the South girls.
“We’re looking forward to it,” she said. “ … I’ve heard some good things from my assistants that have been there (at preseason practice). … I’m really excited about the youth. We’ve got two seniors and we’re going to be young — but we’re ready.”
Daily Record Photo/John Lucas
Kathryn Elliott, shown shooting a 3-pointer, had nine points and four assists for the Triton girls.