Triton put together its best performance of the season on Tuesday to stun Harnett County rival Harnett Central with a 51-45 win on the road, handing the Trojans their first loss in Tri-County Six 3-A Conference play.
“We weren’t going to let number 10 (Brittany Mills) and number 40 (Syniah McMiller) beat us,” said Triton coach Wendy Simmons. “That was our game plan. The other girls were going to have to step up for their team and try to beat us. We focused on what we needed to do defensively against those two girls. We weren’t completely able to stop them, but (McMiller) got into foul trouble. We actually took a charge against her, which we had been talking about at halftime and even before the game started. We played a complete game. We didn’t panic in the fourth quarter, even when we had maybe a three-point lead like we did against Union Pines. We made progress, so I was so happy to see them play like that in the fourth quarter.”
The win is Triton’s first over Central since Nov. 18, 2016 and snaps an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans. Senior Zoie Starling, then a freshman, is the only current Triton player that was on the varsity team at that time.
Harnett Central coach Catherine Griffin was not at the game because of illness. Assistant Andrew Maidon was at the helm in her stead.
“Tough week for (Griffin) to get sick,” Maidon said. “We decided to switch to man (defense) for a little bit, because they kept hitting that corner three. That girl (Kaila Cooney) can shoot. They kept hitting that corner three in the first quarter, so we switched to man and that didn’t work either. When someone can shoot like that, it’s hard to play defense. But we got in that hole and we would make little runs and they’d come down and shoot that corner three.”
Junior Kaila Cooney had 17 points, including hitting five three-pointers in the contest, seven rebounds and four assists to pace the Hawks (8-8, 3-2 TCSC).
“(Cooney) has total confidence, and you can tell, when she has the ball,” Simmons said. “When she’s got that open shot, she’s going to take it. She has the green light.”
Simmons said sophomore Tristan Ennis and freshman Abby Hood were a major factor in the post for Triton. Ennis had nine points and nine rebounds and Hood had eight points and 13 rebounds.
“They were definitely very aggressive,” Simmons said. “And I feel like Abby reads the ball very well. She may be the one to shoot the ball and she’ll go get her own rebound, just because she can see it. That’s something nice to have, because you can’t teach that. Tristan’s very aggressive and she played, to me, more under control tonight than she did against Union Pines, so that was a big plus, too. And she made some big baskets for us in the first half.”
Zoie Starling had nine points and six rebounds. Anastasia McDonald had eight points and seven assists.
Junior Brittany Mills had 19 points and junior Syniah McMiller had 13 points to lead the Trojans (13-3, 4-1).
Lya Molyneaux and Madeline Langdon had six points apiece and Shynice Raines had one point.
The first quarter was back-and-forth early until, with Central holding a 10-9 lead, Triton ended the quarter with a three from Cooney and a score from McDonald to take a 14-10 lead.
Triton opened the second quarter with 10 unanswered points, six of which came from Ennis, to push the lead into double digits. But with the Hawks leading 25-12 late in the quarter, McMiller scored five unanswered points to cut the lead to 25-17 at halftime.
Late in the fourth quarter, Triton held a 47-41 lead when a pair of McMiller baskets cut the lead to two. But Triton went 4-for-6 at the free throw line down the stretch to hold off the Trojans.
At the halfway point of conference play, Tuesday’s loss drops Harnett Central into a first-place tie with Union Pines, but the Trojans currently hold the tiebreaker as the Vikings’ lone conference loss. Tuesday’s win, along with Southern Lee’s win over Lee County, moves Triton into sole possession of third place.
Both teams begin the second half of conference play on the road on Friday. Triton travels to Lee County (3-15, 2-3) and Harnett Central is at Union Pines (12-7, 4-1) with sole possession of first place on the line.
“I think we may surprise some people the second turn,” Simmons said. “That’s what we’re hoping for anyway.”