Playing at home for the final time this season Tuesday night in the fourth round of the state playoffs, the Chatham Charter girls basketball team gave their fans something to remember by defeating Southside, 70-53, to advance to the 1A east regional finals.
The Knights jumped out to any early eight-point lead behind the play of senior guard Tamaya Walden and junior forward Meah Brooks. Walden’s ability to convert opportunities in transition helped Chatham Charter break down a lagging Seahawk defense.
However, Southside was quick to respond to the Knights' initial run. Midway through the first quarter, a pair of Ka’Nyah O’Neal triples inched the Seahawks within one possession. Entering Tuesday’s contest, the senior guard was averaging over 29 points per game, and O’Neal’s combination of strength and a tight handle made her a difficult assignment for the Knights' pressing zone defense.
“She’s a good guard,” Walden said. “She’s the size of a post player and it’s not common to see a guard that size. She’s very shifty and can move — she’s very quick on her feet.”
After Walden exploded for 11 points in the first quarter, the Seahawks altered their defensive approach and opted to faceguard the Knights’ all-time leading scorer.
Despite the ramp up in defensive pressure, Walden’s all-around impact continued into the second half. Late in the third quarter, the senior guard swiped a Seahawk pass and finished a fading floater at the buzzer to stretch Chatham Charter’s lead to nine points entering the final period.
“She’s been the glue to our team,” head coach Jeff Patterson said. “We’ll go as far as she’ll take us. At the beginning of the season I had to convince her to be more vocal and be a leader.”
The final period of play saw a number of Knights get in on the scoring barrage, as junior guard Delana Loflin and senior forward Emerson Clark each tallied multiple baskets.
While the Knights’ collective attack strengthened, the Seahawks began to slow down. O’Neal — who finished with a team-high 27 points — struggled from the free-throw in the fourth quarter, missing a trio attempts. With Southside’s primary scorer slowing down, the Knights fed Brooks down low to ice away Chatham Charter’s final home game of the year.
The Knights were led by Walden and Brooks, who scored 27 and 20 points, respectively. Clark delivered timely free throws in the second half, and the senior forward finished the game with 10 points.
Following the conference tournament, Chatham Charter wrote out a checklist of playoff rounds on the board in their locker room. After defeating the Seahawks — and checking off one more box — Patterson described the feeling of playing in the final four as a “dream.”
“There are no words,” he said. “I’m just so proud of them and the way they’ve worked. They started working back in June and it’s just been amazing.”
Chatham Charter will take on the top-seeded Falls Lake Academy on Saturday at a neutral site. The winner of the east regional final will advance to the state championship on March 11.