The Hamlet Middle School girls’ basketball team entered its final week of play with a slim shot at a Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference (SEMSAC) playoff spot.
Only six of the conference’s 10 teams participate in the conference tournament and entering their final three games of the regular season, the Lady Red Rams only had a single win on their resume.
However, after an exciting overtime victory over Anson Middle a week prior notched Hamlet’s second win and moved them into seventh place in the standings, all that was standing in their way of a tournament berth were in-county opponents Cordova Middle and Ellerbe Middle.
Strong second half helps Lady Red Rams down Cordova
CORDOVA – With four total points scored in the first quarter and only three points separating the teams at halftime, Hamlet Middle School’s girls’ basketball game at Cordova Middle was on a trajectory to be a defensive barnburner. However, the Lady Red Rams managed to outscore its hosts 18-2 in the final two quarters, turning a close game into a lopsided 28-9 Hamlet victory.
Cordova’s Aliah West scored the first quarter’s only field goal. Teammate Zamyria Smith and Hamlet’s Alayah Bailey each added a free throw rounding out the scoring in a quick first period that ended with the home team ahead 3-1.
From there, Hamlet’s Amonie McNeil took over. Following a short jump shot from Cordova’s MaRhonda Harrison just over a minute into the second quarter, McNeil scored the game’s next seven points, which included going 3-for-5 from the free throw line and converting two steals into easy fast-break points.
Two more free throws from Smith with a minute left on the clock stopped the Hamlet run and cut the Cordova deficit to just one at 8-7. With just 18 seconds left until the break, Hamlet’s Dezyre Wilson banked one in to send the Lady Red Rams to the locker room with a 10-7 halftime lead.
The second half was all Hamlet as the Lady Red Rams outscored Cordova 18-2 in the final two quarters with McNeil leading the way. McNeil scored 10 of her game-high 17 points in the third period, once on a putback, and the rest on fast-break opportunities. Wilson, who recorded three steals in the quarter, added to the third quarter scoring when she turned one of her steals into a quick two points.
Cordova’s Aliah West powered her way through Hamlet’s stingy defense to bank one in for the Lady Cavalier’s only points of the second half about midway through the third quarter, and Hamlet carried a 22-9 lead into the fourth quarter.
Only six points were scored in the fourth quarter with McNeil, Kenya Bailey, and Alayah Bailey each adding two points to the Hamlet tally.
Wilson and Kenya Bailey each scored four points for Hamlet in the win. Alayah Bailey added 3. West finished with 4 for Cordova, Smith had 3 and Harrison ended the afternoon with 2.
Hamlet outlasts Ellerbe in battle for playoff berth
HAMLET – When the Hamlet Middle and Ellerbe Middle girls’ basketball teams met on Thursday, there was a little more on the line than just bragging rights. The Lady Red Rams and Lady Wildcats had each managed a pair of late-season victories to put them in the SEMSAC conversation.
A Hamlet win would be its fourth of the season and enough to place them sixth or even fifth (based on other game outcomes) in the six-team field. An Ellerbe win would tie them up with Hamlet in the standings and would give the Lady Wildcats the final berth due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Despite a valiant effort by Ellerbe, the Lady Red Rams used runs in the second and fourth quarters to notch a 24-18 victory and earn the opportunity to play at least one more time.
Both teams came out aggressive defensively allowing very few shot attempts in the opening quarter. Hamlet’s Amonie McNeil got her team on the board first when she rebounded a missed shot by the Lady Wildcats and sprinted back the other way untouched for an uncontested layup.
Ellerbe’s Tanaja Harrison answered just over a minute later with a putback and then again another minute later with a bank shot that sailed over the outstretched arms of two Hamlet defenders to put the Lady Wildcats ahead 4-2 with 5:30 on the clock.
McNeil knotted the game up at 4-all just 8 seconds later when she took the inbound pass and went coast-to-coast and laid it in. She would go on to turn two Hamlet steals into quick scores for the quarter’s final four points giving the Lady Red Rams an 8-4 lead.
The teams’ aggressive play continued resulting in limited shot opportunities and 11 fouls being called in the second quarter. Both teams went flat from the free throw line going a combined 2-of-13, limiting most scoring opportunities to fast break tries and second chance points.
Ellerbe’s Kenley Smith opened the second period with a free throw, cutting the Lady Wildcats’ deficit to 3 points. Nearly three minutes later, McNeil turned another steal into two points starting another three-minute scoring drought that ended when a Dezyre Wilson putback added to the Hamlet lead with just 2:40 remaining in the half.
McNeil connected on 1-of-2 free throw attempts with 59 seconds left leading to a 13-5 halftime lead for the Lady Red Rams.
Harrison, Smith and Allison Gonzalez each contributed to a 8-3 third quarter run with Gonzalez leading the way with 4. The third-quarter spark by the Lady Wildcats turned what appeared to be a runaway win for Hamlet into an exciting game again as Hamlet held a slim 16-13 lead heading into the final quarter.
It took less than two minutes for the Lady Red Rams to regain its eight point advantage. Following a Wilson layup, McNeil collected a loose ball on Ellerbe’s inbound attempt, tossed it through the hoop, and was fouled in the process. Her free throw try was true giving the Lady Red Rams a 21-15 lead with just 8:00 left to play.
Ellerbe was not done yet. After three minutes of silence, Lillian Hill banked one in for the Lady Wildcats with 5:00 on the clock, cutting Hamlet’s lead to six. After nearly three more minutes of scoreless play, a Harrison layup made it a 4-point game at 21-17 with just 2:05 remaining.
That would be as close as Ellerbe would get as Harrison’s layup was the game’s final field goal. Hamlet added three free throws (2 by McNeil and 1 by Wilson) and Ellerbe added a free throw from Smith rounding out the scoring.
McNeil (19) and Wilson (5) scored all of Hamlet’s 24 points. Harrison lead the way for Ellerbe with 7, Gonzalez netted 4, Smith added 3 and Lillian Hill had 2.
Hamlet improved to 4-5 on the season and will either be fifth or sixth in the SEMSAC playoff bracket. The Lady Red Rams are only one of three Richmond County teams to qualify for the post season joining Rockingham Middle’s boys and girls teams. Ellerbe ends its season at 2-7.
Please check the Richmond Observer Facebook page for the upcoming playoff schedule. It will be posted once available.