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Lady Crusaders cruise to perfect regular season

Feb. 13—It's three games to all sorts of history for the undefeated Grace Christian School Lady Crusaders.

Top-ranked Grace brought in one of its toughest opponents of the season for Friday night's regular-season finale at Torgerson Gym. Following Senior Night festivities prior to the game, the Lady Crusaders took the floor for a rematch with Legacy Early College, the second-ranked team in the state of South Carolina. Grace jumped out to a big early lead and then cruised to an 80-67 victory over the Lady Lions. The win completed a perfect 27-0 regular season for a team ranked in two national top-20 high school ranking systems.

The final score was not indicative of how the game was played. Grace ripped off a 23-8 lead in the first quarter, as Isa Roman and Halisi Whitley unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers. Each of the two guard hit a pair of bombs.

Legacy (16-8) responded with three treys of its own in the second quarter, two by Mila Hollaway and another by Zhykera Brown, but its only other point in the period was a single free throw by Holloway as the home team led 42-18 at the half.

Grace continued to attack aggressively in the early part of the third quarter. It doubled up the Lions for the last time on a basket with 3:56 left in the period to lead 52-26, and would lead by as many as 28 points before easing up defensively down the stretch.

The Lions got hot from long range and hit six 3-pointers in the final 11 minutes of play, whittling the lead to 16 before Grace extended it to 72-49 early in the fourth quarter. Legacy then piled on points in garbage time and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to narrow the gap to the final 13 points, as close as it had been since the first quarter.

The Lions did gain the distinction of putting up the highest point total of any team Grace has played this season. Cannon, the top-ranked NCISAA 4A team, put up 57 in a Dec. 15 game that played out very similar to this one, with Grace leading by 28 before easing to a 72-57 win.

The Lady Crusaders had already played Legacy once, traveling to Greenville, S.C. to face them back on Jan. 5, in Grace's first game as a nationally-ranked team. They won that one 63-48. All of Legacy's losses are to highly-rated teams from across the country, and among the teams who defeated them, only Grace offered a rematch.

Holloway, a nationally-ranked recruit who has already signed to play for the University of Michigan next season, put on a show with 25 points, including a dozen in the fourth quarter. Brown, a highly-rated Class of 2025 player, tossed in 23 of her own. For Grace, the offense was a balanced attack with five players in double figures. Sarah Strong led the team with 19 points. Icyss Storm added 18, Roman 14, Whitley 13 and Miyah Campbell 10. Serenity McNair rounded out the scoring with six.

The Lady Crusaders, who are ranked No. 1 in the state of North Carolina, regardless of classification or affiliation, received the No. 1 overall seed in the 3A state tournament in the bracket announced Sunday. The top eight seeds receive a double-bye in the tournament. Grace will not play until the quarterfinals, and will need to win just three games to three-peat as state champions. The quarterfinal round game will be played Saturday at Torgerson Gym, and if the Lady Crusaders win that, the semifinal will be at Torgerson next Tuesday. The NCISAA 3A final will be played at 4 p.m. Feb. 24 at North Raleigh Christian Academy.

If Grace wins the state championship, it will become the first team in NCISAA history to win three successive state titles at different classifications. The Lady Crusaders went 29-1 to win the 1A title in 2022 and 32-3 to win the 2A title in 2023.

Any of four teams could be Grace's Saturday opponent, but the most likely is eighth-seeded Forsyth Country Day (13-11).