RANDLEMAN — Having outperformed expectations throughout the season, the Wheatmore girls basketball team attempted to do so again to win a rubber match with a conference foe and advance to the third round of the NCHSAA 2-A state playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, the improbable run as a No. 13 seed through the postseason tournament came to an end last Thursday with a 66-41 at the hands of Randleman. The Tigers split the season series with Wheatmore and won the regular season Pac-7 2-A Conference Championship.
Their reward was the right to host a second-round home playoff game, and they took full advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s tough to say goodbye to the seniors, because they battled from their freshmen year to getting to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history,” Wheatmore coach Pete Kilcullen said. “I give all the credit to Randleman. They’re a great basketball team. [Randleman coach] Brandon [Varner] and his staff have done a tremendous job in raising this program from the ashes. I wish them all the luck in the world.”
Wheatmore hung in for the 15 minutes. Trailing 23-21 with 30 seconds to play until halftime, the Warriors had an opportunity to get a crucial stop before the half. Graycn Hall received a pass, gathered herself and hit a 3-pointer as time expired to give Randleman a 26-21 lead at the break.
The Tigers never looked back.
“They made their shots tonight,” Kilcullen said. “They beat us up on the boards. Graycn Hall is the player of the year in this conference for a reason, and she showed it to us. We didn’t do what we did the last time at our place. We didn’t make the shots when we had open looks, we didn’t have any secondary scoring.”
In the third quarter, the Tigers buried a barrage of jumpers and extended their lead to 16 by the end of the period. That advantage ballooned to 27 late in the fourth quarter, as Wheatmore was unable to regain its footing in the second half.
Hall led all scorers with 24 points, all of which came in the first three quarters. Elizabeth York finished with 17 for the Tigers, and Hannah Hinshaw added 13. Wheatmore point guard Taylor Comer paced the Warriors with 16, while Kara Comer had 11.
The Warriors finished the season with an 11-4 record, having won nine games in a row at one point during the season, including a victory over Randleman. Taylor Comer graduates this year, leaving the team with a crucial vacancy for Kilcullen to fill next season.
Last week the emotional coach was focused solely on the accomplishments of his senior class and the team as a whole, which he said overachieved in the midst of a pandemic.
“I’m really proud of my group,” Kilcullen said. “To win nine straight, nobody thought we’d ever make it to the playoffs with eight players on my team. They battled hard tonight, they love each other and they’re a good group of kids. I’m proud of them.”
Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.