East Chapel Hill girls team may have found it's game, and in a most unusual place. A loss.
Chapel Hill, arguably the best 3A girls team in the Triangle, if not the state, won Friday night at East Chapel Hill, 65-47, but that is about as close as anyone has been with the Tigers in many months.
"Absolutely, this was a better game for us than the first time we played them," East Chapel Hill coach Michelle Wood said, speaking over the din of the boys' game that followed her team's. "We shot better. We played better defense. We went right at them.
"They're a great team. For us not to get blown out by 32 this time is big for us, mentally. We have no reason to be upset by the way this game turned out."
The first time the two rivals met, Chapel Hill downed East 68-33 in Tiger Gym. That was the closest game CHHS had this season, before Friday at East.
Chapel Hill (6-0) beat its first five opponents by an average margin of 44.6 points. The last team before Friday to get within 20 points of Chapel Hill in a regular-season game was Cardinal Gibbons, 48-36, on Feb. 15. And that was "Senior Night" last season at CHHS, when coach Sherry Norris was trying to give every player as many minutes as she could.
Chapel Hill never trailed at East Chapel Hill (3-3), but also didn't get off to the fast start it wanted. The Tigers hit just three of their first 12 shots.
"I thought we acted like we were just going to walk in there and people were going to lie down for us and not play," Norris said.
"I reminded the team before the game that East had scored more points on us than any other team this season. I told the players they would have to really get after it on offense from the beginning."
East's Wildcats thwarted Chapel Hill's plans with their 1-3-1 point zone and by maintaining a slower tempo on offense, refusing to get into the type of fast-paced game that often leads to quick baskets in transition for the Tigers.
"Our players did everything we asked them to do," Wood said. "We asked them to slow it down some, to take care of the ball and maintain possession, to be careful with the tempo, because we just didnt want to get into a running game with them."
East was also helped by the return last week of 6-1 Riley Foster, the tallest player among the Wildcats, who had recovered from a calf strain, and also of Grace Haley, who had been playing with her field hockey club. Neither scored in double digits, but both gave East more of a court presence that held up for more than a half against Chapel Hill.
Ahead just 6-4 midway through the first quarter, Chapel Hill broke to an 18-6 margin, thanks to five different Tigers scoring in a 2-minute span.
Down 24-16 in the second quarter, East got five points from Ali Cyr-Scully in a 7-0 run to get back within one. Her two free throws with 1:33 left in the first half made it a 24-23 game.
Chapel Hill's defense finally wore down East, forcing two turnovers that sparked the Tigers' own 7-0 run in the half's last 90 seconds for a 31-23 lead at the break.
Norris reminded her team at halftime how to attack the 1-3-1 zone, and the result was 6-for-11 shooting in the third quarter. Chapel Hill center Catherine Romaine scored 9 of her 13 points in the first 4:58 of the second half.
"We've really worked on attacking the 1-3-1 in practice," Norris noted. "Once we attacked the gaps, things opened up for us, and Cat had a good night scoring."
Chapel Hill's Autumn West scored 9 second-half points and ended up with a team-high 16. Jamella Smith added 14 points.
Cyr-Scully led all scorers with 17, scoring 12 in the second half. Sarah Towne chipped in 15 for East.
"East played extremely well," Norris said. "They kept it close.
"I think East has a team that's going to do well in their conference."