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BENSON — The sound of celebration — of chanting and yelling and just plain screaming — echoed from the West Johnston High vistors locker room and out into the hallway near the school’s gym on Thursday night.
Inside of that locker room, Clayton head coach Marlon Lee and his Comets girls basketball team were ecstatic. After a 50-34 victory over the Wildcats (10-14, 4-6), the Comets (19-4, 9-1) had won out to capture a share of the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference title with East Wake. The two schools split contests earlier this season.
“It feels really good because my freshman year we were able to accomplish that.” junior power forward Delaney Eaves said of the conference title. “Now we get to do it all over again and hopefully see East Wake in the championship.”
To close out the regular season, the Comets pulled it all together when it mattered.
Clayton struggled to get in a rhythm offensively during the first half, leaving plenty of points on the floor headed into halftime.
The Comets scored the first three points of the game, then allowed an 8-0 run out of West Johnston that catipulted the home team into a small lead entering the second quarter. Clayton kept up its pressing halfcourt defense for most of the game and relied on its pace of play to tire out the Wildcats, which it eventually did.
By the second quarter, that plan was starting to make headway as Clayton built up a 10-point lead narrowed to eight just before the half. At the half, the Comets focused on the key elements that would eventually help them turn the tides for good.
“I told them, the first three or four minutes of the second half, we needed to capitalize on some of the steals that we got,” Lee said. “We needed to capitalize on some of the easy baskets we missed in the first half. But through that, we were able to get at least about a 10-point lead and from there, we kept with our pressure.”
Clayton was much-improved as it quickly got ahead by more than 10 in the third quarter, scoring 10 of the first 11 points in the third quarter. The defense came through and the offense executed at a much higher volume shooting the ball, leading to the Comets’ lead ballooning nearly to 20 into the fourth quarter.
Halftime adjustments proved fruitful.
“We started out a little slow in the first half, but we were able to pick it up a little bit defensively and get the steals we needed,” Eaves said.
Eaves, with 12 points, and leading scorer Darionna Howard shared the ball effectively as the highest scorers in the win. Howard finished with 15 points.
Closing out the victory gave Clayton a chance to look back on what it has done so far this season.
Finishing with one loss since the end of December was not an easy task, but Eaves said the team has become close.
“It’s been a long process of just getting the team chemistry together,” she said. “But I feel like we’ve definitely come together as a group and we’re a family now.”
The team didn’t have its best performance on Thursday night, but it found a way. And now the Comets are co-conference champs.
“We were trying to be conference champs and that’s what champs do,” Lee said. “They show up and be champs.”
Washington 6, Howard 15, Henninger 4, Best 4, Eaves 12, Watkins 7, Sharp 2.
West Johnston (34)
Brewington 1, McDougald 12, Blake 2, Tucker 12, Nolan 3, Commings 4.
Score by quarters:
CHS 7 16 13 14 — 50
WJHS 10 5 7 12 — 34