Emerson Thompson plays her final game as a Firebird

Mar. 11—CREEDMOOR — On Friday, coached by her father for the last time while in the orange and white 'FLA' jerseys, Emerson Thompson and the Falls Lake Academy Firebirds were unseated in the East regional finals 68-59 by the East Bladen Eagles.

Thompson had 30 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists, and a monstrous 8 blocks. The future Campbell shooting guard has been on a tear in the 1A bracket, tallying up a ridiculous 31 points per game in her four playoff appearances this year.

"She's one of a kind," said her coach and father, Brad Thompson. "She's an amazing player, I don't know if the school will see another one like her."

Against a deep, talented Eagles roster, the Firebirds needed all the firepower they could get from their otherworldly, star senior.

Toward the end of the first quarter, Thompson hoisted a three-ball that hit nothing but net In the second, driving with a full head of steam, Thompson gracefully finished with her left-handed layup with a defender all over her.

It was an uber-competitive game for most of the first half, with the Falls Lake lead never wavering above two possessions as the two teams traded baskets. Too big, and too strong, Thompson corralled her own rebound and got the putback and the foul.

This East Bladen team has traveled well in the playoffs, and their visitor section was making plenty of noise as the Eagles tied the game up at 25.

As a dominant player, Thompson had to tote the line between distributing for her teammates and creating for herself.

"It's just making the right read, it's something that I've done all year," said Thompson. "Knowing when I need to shoot the ball and knowing when I need to pass, it's something I need to work on for the next level as well."

Avoiding an airborne defender, and then finishing at the rim for another transition layup, Thompson extended the lead to 32-28. A few plays later, the referees called Thompson for her third foul, and a chorus of "boos" cascaded from the stands as the home crowd voiced their disapproval.

Most of the Vance Charter girls' team was in attendance Friday evening, including Mackenzie Pendergrass, to watch the team that just beat them. A three-ball from NeNe Ward gave the Eagles a one-point lead. With no Falls Lake cheerleaders at the game, "Eagles" chants filled the gym as East Bladen took a 37-34 advantage into halftime.

The crowd saw magic from Thompson halfway through the third quarter as the 5-foot-10 playmaker delivered a seed inside for a wide-open, cutting teammate. On the next possession, using her off-arm as a shield, Thompson dropped a shoulder into her defender and finished with a feathery floater. Freshman Destiny Williams showed heart and hustle to force a jump ball for the Firebirds in a 43-42 game.

Another blow-by dribble and mid-range pull-up from Thompson regained the lead, but playing with three fouls, the senior committed another turnover as her father paced the sidelines. Thompson was exasperated with one of her teammates after she let a bounce pass slip through her hands. The Eagles were up 50-46 after a pair of free throws.

With no cheerleaders, the Firebirds' bench chanted "d-up" with their team down six.

A Thompson missed three gave the ball back to East Bladen, who was content on dribbling the ball out with over six minutes on the clock.

A Thompson fadeaway was no good, and a missed layup from Williams gave the Eagles the ball up nine. With a little over five minutes to play, Thompson was seen telling her teammate she needed to pressure the ball. Williams forced the much-needed steal but coughed the ball up and committed a foul. Falls Lake head coach Brad Thompson was livid with the officials and received a technical foul for his reaction.

An and-one from Thompson reduced the deficit to seven points, but trading buckets with a team draining the clock was not going to help their situation.

So on the next time down, Thompson pulled from the top of the arc — cold-blooded. The senior laced the three to cut the lead to two possessions. Thompson again traded buckets to keep the Eagles lead at six before coming up with the thunderous block on the other end to get the rebound and the ball back. But a friendly bounce off Laila Smith's fadeaway jumper helped quell Falls Lake's offensive run, just as they started to gain momentum.

"She's right there," one Firebird told another motioning to Thompson after they failed to get her the ball inside after the offensive rebound.

All year, Thompson has been able to carry her team through these rough situations — especially in the playoffs. But with little time remaining on the clock, a lot was riding on the senior, who was seeing multiple defenders shaded toward her on every possession.

"I just need to get the ball in the basket," said Thompson. "That's what goes through my mind a lot, especially in these close games and I have teammates and a staff who trust in me."

When Thompson finally checked out of the game with under a minute left, she received a standing ovation from both sides of the gym. Emotional after her final game as a Firebird, Thompson cried as she was congratulated by her teammates on the bench.

"All the memories I've made here, I love this school with my whole heart... the people I play with," said Thompson. "This is experience has been awesome."

On what basketball fans can expect from her next year at Campbell, Thompson said she is excited and willing to take on any responsibility on the floor for the Camels next season.

"I want to do whatever I can in Buies Creek to help my team win, whether that's cheering on the bench or going in and getting some minutes. Anything my coach wants me to do."

"Roll Humps," she concluded.

With Thompson off to Division-1 hoops next year, the Firebirds will have to recoup next season and try to replace some of that scoring ability. Coach Brad Thompson will likely step down from his role as the Firebirds' head coach with the departure of his daughter.

"I will definitely be around the program in some capacity — without a doubt," said the head coach.