Feb. 8—Some early-season setbacks, including ones sustained while the team was at less than full strength, have put Lee County's Lady Jackets squarely on the playoff bubble as the regular season winds down.
The good news is that the team still has time left to try to play its way into the field of 32. The Lady Jackets took a big step in that direction Tuesday night, evening the score with Pinecrest with a 61-46 victory.
Lee (9-8, 5-4 Sandhills Athletic Conference) led by five points at halftime, but outscored Pinecrest 18-6 in the third quarter, including a 16-2 run that spanned much of the period and put the Lady Jackets firmly in control of the contest. The run was highlighted by strong play at both ends of the floor from six-foot senior center Kelyce McSwain, who led her team with 20 points.
Lee County is 34th in the most recent version of the NCHSAA RPI ratings and needs to move up two spots before the selections are announced on Feb. 24 in order to make a second straight playoff appearance.
In the men's game, the Jackets stayed close and led by as many as six points on one occasion, but a fourth-quarter collapse led to a deceptive 79-52 victory for the visiting Patriots. Pinecrest scored the game's final 21 points.
Lee will host Richmond, the leader in both the men's and women's half of the league, Friday night.
Lee County 61, Pinecrest 46
The Lady Jackets let one slip away on Jan. 10 in Southern Pines, when the Patriots outlasted them in overtime. But one thing Lee discovered in the loss is that Pinecrest could not stop McSwain, who had 22 points and 21 rebounds.
In the rematch, they not only could not stop McSwain, they had no answer for Gillian Garrison, either. The first quarter was a tightly contested battle in which the visitors came out ahead by a point, 16-15. But then Garrison, the senior Campbell University women's soccer recruit, went off in the second.
She scored 11 points in the second quarter, including three 3-pointers, as the Lady Jackets wrested the lead away from Pinecrest and held it for the rest of the evening. The Lady Jackets weren't quite able to pull away, but held a 32-27 lead at the half.
The teams traded baskets to open the third quarter and then Garrison hit a 3-pointer. When Kaleah Cotton stole the ball and took it 60 feet the other way for a score at the 5:08 mark of the quarter, Lee had its biggest lead to date, at 39-29. At this point, McSwain took over. She scored on a layup, then blocked a shot at the other end and got it back underneath, getting fouled for two free throws. Cherish Smith went coast-to-coast for a basket following a rebound of a shot altered by McSwain. Lee led by as many as 19 before the quarter ended.
They matched that after back-to-back plays where Smith and then Cotton drove and dished to McSwain for easy scores. Pinecrest then went on an 8-1 run of its own and trailed 55-43 with 1:53 remaining, but McSwain scored on a layup at the other end and Lee kept in control to the end.
Garrison was right behind McSwain with 19 points. Lily Currin and Cotton added seven each, Smith six, and Gabrielle McLean two. Zanodiya McNair led Pinecrest with 22 points.
Pinecrest 79, Lee County 52
The Yellow Jackets trailed just 58-52 midway through the fourth quarter, but then did not score again down the stretch.
The Patriots (10-8) jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, but a 3-pointer by the Jackets' MJ Sanders sparked a rally that tied the game at 11 on a breakaway jam from Jayden Hill followed by a putback from Hill that gave the home team a 13-12 lead with 33 seconds left in the first quarter.
Pinecrest scored the last basket of the opening period, but Lee took the lead three more times in the third quarter and trailed just 33-32 at the half.
In the third quarter, Lee opened with a 7-0 run and took its largest lead of the night. The Patriots answered with a 12-0 run of their own and led 45-39, and were up 58-45 by the end of the period. However, Lee made one last run to start the fourth quarter, outscoring Pinecrest 7-0 to make the score 58-52. But the Jackets would not score again.
Ronnie Hooker led Lee with 14 points. Kamaree Butler added 13 and Hill 11.