RALEIGH — Chatham Charter head coach Jeff Patterson likened the Knights’ experience in the NCHSAA 1A girls basketball state championship game to that of the small-town Indiana team in the 1986 film “Hoosiers.”
Entering Saturday’s contest, Patterson reminded his players and the coaching staff that the goal is still 10 feet tall, the court is still 94 feet long, but “it’s just a bigger stage and bigger lights.”
The bright lights and big stage, though, proved to be too much for the Knights, as they fell to Bishop McGuinness, 73-43, in the NCHSAA 1A girls basketball championship Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh. The Villains became back-to-back state champions and claimed their 11th title overall since 2006. As for the Knights, they were playing for a state championship for the first time in program history.
In the words of senior guard Tamaya Walden, that’s a “big step in a basketball career.”
“I thought, coming in, that the atmosphere and the lights of the bigger stage would affect our ball club, and it did,” Patterson said.
After the opening quarter, Chatham Charter appeared to be in good shape, trailing by just five points, 17-12. However, turnovers soon began to plague the Knights, and Bishop McGuinness jumped out to a 16-point lead at halftime thanks to numerous fast break opportunities.
“We started letting them do what they wanted to do and they got anything they wanted,” Patterson said. “It just started getting out of hand.”
In the practices leading up to the state title game, Patterson ran over the scouting report extensively. The Knights felt that they were prepared for the Villains’ full-court man coverage and the impending 1-3-1 half-court trap. Ultimately, though, Patterson said his team just didn’t execute.
On the defensive end, the gameplan was for Chatham Charter to get out on the Villains’ shooters, even at the expense of giving up the inside game. However, as evidenced by sophomore shooting guard Adelaide Jernigan’s 21 points, the Knights weren’t successful in that goal.
Bishop McGuinness continued to pick apart Chatham Charter’s defense thanks to its consistent ball movement. By the end of the game, the Villains had canned eight 3-pointers on 40% shooting from downtown.
“We were worried about their shooters,” Patterson said. “If you don’t get out and close out on their shooters, like you see, they’re a great shooting team.”
Chatham Charter’s sole bright spot was junior forward Meah Brooks, as her aggression on the offensive boards and high release point allowed her to compete against an oversized Villains team. The Most Outstanding Player for Chatham Charter in the title game ended with 18 points and nine rebounds despite playing limited minutes due to foul trouble.
“I feel like I played pretty good,” Brooks said. “I could’ve did a little bit more on the defensive end and rebounding. But on offensive I feel like I gave it my all.”
While the seniors — including Walden, the program’s all-time leading scorer (1,866 points) — went out on an unhappy note, players like Brooks should give the Knights more hope for the future. And, considering the team’s unlikely ascent to the title game, the past few weeks, despite the sour ending, have still been “surreal.”
“No one really expected us to get here,” senior guard Lillian Jones said. “Game after game, when we would win, you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what to feel. You just have to keep playing.”