St. Pauls’ boys — and its girls — found that out the hard way in a pair of 2A Mideast first-round home upsets Monday night.
Ninth-seeded Croatan, the third-place finisher from the East Central Conference, fought off a late charge to end the Bulldogs’ season in the nightcap while Burlington Cummings, a No. 14 seed, held off the Lady Bulldogs by a point, 43-42.
St. Pauls (16-8) lost 20 games last season but finished one win short of Fairmont in this year’s race for the Three Rivers title. The Bulldogs placed third in the Robeson County Shootout in December and lost in the league tournament semis last week.
They appeared to be a team on the verge throughout Travis Lemanski’s third season on the sideline.
“When you’re a coach or a player, you obviously don’t want to finish a season without winning anything,” Lemanksi said after a 66-60 loss to the Cougars. “We didn’t win a tournament and we didn’t win the conference, but I told my guys that hopefully we’ve turned this program around as far as that’s concerned. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
For Michael White’s ladies, a matchup zone from Cummings knocked the St. Pauls offense off its rhythm after intermission while center Aundrea Walker couldn’t be stopped down low. Walker gave her team a two-point lead with 57 seconds left on a putback and followed that up with her sixth swat at the other end.
Walker finished with a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“We’re focusing on what we’ve done the last 10 games of the season and that’s win seven games,” White said. “Taking a step back and looking at our season as a whole is what I’m trying to do. We did pretty darn well considering what we lost off last year’s team and the youth we had this season.”
Down as many as 12 in the third quarter, St. Pauls’ boys fought back furiously to take multiple leads before the Cougars converted in the halfcourt down the stretch. Croatan forward Austin Saunders scored 23 points while Jaques Chambers pitched in with 15.
The contest featured three ties and four lead changes in the fourth quarter before Croatan took the lead for good with 4:06 remaining. St. Pauls seniors Deion Gilchrist, Kane Banner, Jaquel Johnson and Dustin Canady combined for 41 points.
“It hurts for the seniors and they’re pretty frustrated,” Lemanksi said. “Deion is pretty shaken up. We knew Croatan was a good team and it was probably a tough draw for us, but we just couldn’t make enough plays late in the game.”