RAEFORD, N.C. – Hamlet Middle School’s Red Rams basketball teams ventured north into Hoke County for their season openers against the Eagles of East Hoke Middle School.
The girls’ game remained close throughout with the outcome being decided in the final five seconds. The boys game saw one team pull away early and never look back. Unfortunately for the Red Rams, both were sent back to Hamlet without a victory.
In the girls’ game, Hamlet’s Da’Veah Robinson scored the first point when she connected on one of two free throws. Moments later, Jaimaya Ratliff hauled in an offensive rebound and tossed it back up and in for two more. After the two teams missed on their next possessions, Robinson found herself alone under the net and laid one in to put Hamlet up 5-0 halfway through the first quarter.
From that point on, East Hoke’s Ayanna Tewolde took over scoring the games next four straight baskets, giving her Lady Eagles an 8-5 lead after one quarter of play.
In the second quarter, both teams were more aggressive on defense, forcing multiple turnovers and limiting shot opportunities. Rayana Shubert pulled Hamlet to within one when she hauled in a Ratliff miss and put it back up for two. The two teams traded possessions seven times before Ratliff put her team on her shoulders.
Ratliff stripped the ball away from East Hoke’s Markaja Wright and delivered it to the hoop to put the Red Rams back 9-8 with 3:18 remaining in the half. After Tewolde missed two free throws on the other end, Ratliff was good on another layup, this time being fouled in the process. She connected on the free throw and the Lady Red Rams were leading 12-8 with 55 seconds remaining in the half.
Ratliff was not done yet. She caught a pass in the corner just outside the arc, followed the baseline to the hoop, split two defenders, and added two more points to send Hamlet into the break with a 14-8 lead.
That lead disappeared quickly. The Eagles made all of the right adjustments defensively in the second half, limiting the Red Rams to only two third quarter points (a Ratliff jump shot with 1:33 remaining in the quarter). Two Tewolde layups and an offensive putback by Malaysia McRae evened the game at 14 with 1:48 remaining. Wright then connected on three layups in the final 1:11 of the third quarter to put East Hoke ahead 20-16 after the third stanza.
The fourth quarter featured a little of everything – a couple of injuries, a foul out, seven jump balls, players hitting the floor fighting for possession and a game-deciding play in the final seconds.
After a Shubert layup cut the Red Rams deficit to two, Tewolde injured her right leg while attempting to possess a loose ball. With East Hoke’s leading scorer on the bench, Hamlet had an opportunity to retake the lead. The Lady Eagles managed to trade baskets with the Lady Red Rams until Tewolde was able to return.
Ratliff found the net once again with 1:09 remaining in the game, pulling Hamlet to within two at 24-22. After the two teams traded possessions, the Lady Red Rams were forced to foul Tewolde with 5 seconds remaining sending her to the line for a one-and-one. Tewolde, who was 0-for-9 at that point from the free throw line, finally managed to connect giving her team a 3-point lead. After her second attempt rimmed out, the Eagles fouled Ratliff with one second remaining to prevent Hamlet from attempting a 3-point play. Ratliff was shaken up on the play, but walked off the court on her own. One free throw was made, but it wasn’t enough and the Lady Red Rams fell 25-23 to East Hoke.
Ratliff, the only player in the game to score in every quarter, had 13 points in the loss. Shubert scored 6 for the Lady Red Rams, and Robinson netted 3.
In the boys’ game, East Hoke used a series of first quarter three-pointers to separate themselves early from the visiting Red Rams.
East Hoke’s Antonio Underwood put his Eagles ahead by one when he hit one of his two free throws following a foul just four seconds into the game. Nearly two and a half minutes later, Hamlet’s Dakota Chavis hit a pull-up jumper in the paint to give the Red Rams their first and only lead of the game at 2-1 with 3:33 on the clock. Then the Eagles got hot from behind the arc.
Yassin Butler hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions for East Hoke. Then his fellow Eagle, Zaveon Leggett, drained a triple of his own. Leggett and William Cunningham each added layups in the final minute putting the Eagles ahead 14-3 at the end of the first.
Hamlet’s Jayme Allen started things off early in the second quarter with a steal and layup just 11 seconds into the quarter. East Hoke tacked on four more points courtesy of a layup by Leggett and a pair of free throws by his brother Daveon Leggett to put the Eagles up 18-5 with 4:04 on the clock.
That’s when Hamlet’s J.V. Drake made a play that ignited both the Hamlet and East Hoke fans. Drake stood at least a foot shorter than everyone else on the court. When he entered the game, you could hear a murmur from the crowd as people found humor in his size disadvantage. Drake proved to everyone that talent trumps stature.
On defense, Drake aggressively swatted at the ball and challenged every shot. His perseverance paid off when he caught East Hoke’s Luis Cordero not looking. Drake stripped the ball away, raced down the court, and laid it up and in sending those in attendance to their feet.
East Hoke followed with jumpers from Underwood and Zaveon Leggett giving the home team a 22-7 advantage, their largest lead of the first half. Hamlet answered seconds later when Drake managed to pickpocket another Eagle and found Cameron Way open just outside of the paint. Way’s jump shot swished through accounting for Hamlet’s final points of the first half.
Antoine Jones connected on one of two throws for the Eagles with 16 seconds left, and East Hoke went to the locker room with a 23-9 lead at the half.
The third quarter was uneventful as each team scored five points keeping the Eagles’ 14-point lead intact. With the game out of reach in the fourth, it allowed both teams to get some players off of the bench for some valuable playing time.
East Hoke’s offensive production did not slow down. They outscored the Red Rams 13-9 in the final period to give the Eagles a 41-23 victory.
Despite their offensive struggles, the Red Rams have no problem sharing the ball. Hamlet’s 23 points were spread among 9 different players, with no Red Ram scoring more than 3 points.
Hamlet will return to action on Monday, December 18, when they travel to Sandy Grove Middle School in Hoke County.
Ellerbe Middle School kicked off its basketball season Wednesday with a trip to Carver Middle in Scotland County.
The Wildcats split the contest, with the ladies (1-0) winning 26-17, while the boys dropped to 0-1 with a 46-22 loss to the Eagles. Eighth grader Raven Robinson led the Lady Cats with 14 points, while seventh graders Nyla Stroman and Curtia Crump had six apiece. Seventh grader Emoni McBride led the boys in scoring with 14 points.
The teams return to action for their final game before break, hosting East Hoke Middle School at 4 p.m. on Monday, December 18, at Ellerbe Gym.