Nine Bears score in 50-36 win over Jets, marking 11th straight victory in series

Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Making high quality community journalism isn’t free — please consider supporting our journalism by subscribing to the News + Record today.

Unlimited Digital Access begins at $4.67/month

Print + Digital begins at $6.58/month


BEAR CREEK — It’s strange to think that a game-defining moment could happen as early as the first quarter, much less within the contest’s first four minutes.

But the Chatham Central women’s basketball team is proof that it can.

Down by one, 4-3, with 4:38 on the clock in the opening period last Friday night, Bears senior Carleigh Gentry found her fellow senior, Ivey Tillman, cutting to the basket for an easy bucket — and a foul.

She missed the free throw, but as the ball clanked off the rim, senior Sadie Gaines out-muscled two Jordan-Matthews players for the offensive rebound and found another senior, Lindsey Johnson, wide open for a nothing-but-net 3-pointer.

In just six seconds of game time, the Bears went from a one-point deficit to a four-point lead.

They remained ahead for the rest of the game.

The Bears’ upperclassmen — who worked together in perfect harmony on that five-point possession — celebrated senior night with a 50-36 thumping of the Jets, their longtime in-county rivals.

After having not played each other in last year’s COVID-shortened season, the Bears’ win on Friday acted as their 11th-straight victory over their rivals from Siler City, a streak that dates back to 2015.

Even with the Bears’ recent dominance over the Jets — with eight of those 11 wins, including Friday’s, coming by double digits — the air when these two teams get together is always electric.

“I like the atmosphere, I like the rivalry and tension between both teams,” said Lamont Piggie, the Jets’ first-year head coach, who’s experiencing the rivalry for the first time. “It’s great basketball, like a Duke-Carolina game. I love it. I love the intensity.”

That intensity stemmed from plenty of the players on the court, but none more than the game’s seniors — who amassed 59 of the game’s 86 points (69% of all scoring), including all but five points for the Jets.

J-M senior Eillia Wright (21 points, the game’s leading scorer) went on a tear in the first half, scoring 17 of the Jets’ 24 points before the break, including a stretch at the end of the second quarter where she scored her team’s final 10 points, including two 3-pointers that helped keep the Jets afloat, 30-24, at halftime.

Wright was the focal point of the Bears’ halftime adjustments, however, leading to a second half in which she scored just 4 points on four free throws as they strove to eliminate her ability to score from the field.

“No. 10 (Wright) was their offense in the first half, but Jaylee (Williams) and Carleigh (Gentry) shut her down in the second half,” said Chatham Central Head Coach Lynda Burke after the win. “So to hold her to 4 points in the second half, they really stepped up.”

And once Wright stopped scoring, so did the Jets.

In the second half, J-M scored just 12 total points as the Bears’ suffocating defense got tighter and the rim seemed to get smaller.

“When she gets taken out of the game, it forces the other girls to have to step up, so they have to realize that everything can’t go through Eillia, we have to step up and keep running our offense,” Piggie said. “If we run our offense, she’ll get opened back up, but we can’t get discouraged or shaken because they’re taking her out of the game.”

It took the Jets until the 34-second mark to hit their first field goal of the third quarter, which came on a transition layup from senior Tatyn Siler to make it a 41-30 game with the Bears on top.

On the other end, Chatham Central’s third quarter consisted of a handful of sloppy turnovers saved by a pair of crushing 3-pointers from Johnson, which aided the Bears in pulling away toward the end of the period.

While the Jets played well defensively, according to Piggie, racking up 25 forced turnovers in the process, the bulk of them led to empty possessions, which mainly came in the form of missed transition layups in the second half — a killer when you’re trying to build momentum for a late double-digit comeback.

“At the end of the day, we hustled on defense and we boxed out, we just couldn’t get the shots to fall,” Piggie said. “We went 9-for-41 from the field. It’s hard to win games that way. It’s hard to win a game when you can’t make baskets. … To me, if we scored those easy baskets, that’s the difference in the game.”

It was much of the same in the fourth quarter, with the Bears outscoring their rivals, 10-6, as J-M failed to put the ball in the basket, making just two field goals in the eight-minute period en route to the 14-point loss.

As important as the seniors were for the Bears on their special night, one of Chatham Central’s key contributors was freshman Karaleigh Dodson, who not only led the team with 10 points as the only Bear in double figures, but also stuck to the ball like glue on defense.

Throughout the night, she created a nightmare situation for the Jets as she excelled in blocking shots and getting her hands on the ball whenever she could.

“She’s just an amazing athlete,” Burke said of her team’s lone freshman. “I noticed that this summer, when I thought she could play at the varsity level, and she’s now coming into that. She gets a lot of rebounds. … And tonight was just big, she finally put it all together tonight because she was making it on the offensive end, rebounding and doing it defensively. I’m really excited about her future, she’s pretty awesome.”

If you ask Burke, she has a reason to gush over most of the players on her team — and that’s because so many of them are integral to its success.

In Bear Creek, there isn’t just one player that runs the show.

“Just any night, you don’t know who’s going to be hot or who’s going to lead us,” Burke said. “I think every night we have a different leading scorer and nobody scores 20 or 30, we score about 10. … It’s just balanced scoring. It doesn’t matter where I go on the bench, they seem to be able to step up and fill the role.”

With the win over the Jets (5-13, 3-5 conference) — and the 34-32 victory over the Bartlett Yancey Buccaneers the following night — the Bears are sitting at 8-10 overall with a 7-1 record in the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference, good for second place behind the Seaforth Hawks (9-0).

Chatham Central being one of just two 1A schools in their conference means they’re only competing with North Moore (0-8) for the Mid-Carolina’s playoff berth.

The Bears basically have it locked up.

“(I’m feeling) really good, we should be the 1A champion,” Burke said. “Hopefully we still have a lot of playing left to do.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here