RED SPRINGS — Red Springs girls basketball head coach Steve Sinclair knew his team was in for a challenge when Kayla Stephens and No. 9 Northside-Jacksonville came to town for the second round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs.
“(Stephens) is a Division I player, and she has the IQ to go along with that athletic ability,” Sinclair said.
That talent was on full display Thursday night as Northside rallied behind 27 points from Stephens to erase a seven-point halftime deficit and defeat the No. 6 Lady Red Devils 52-42.
Red Springs jumped out to an early 9-3 advantage and did not give up the lead until the second half, despite facing constant full-court pressure. The Monarchs used a 12-4 run in the third quarter to reverse the game’s momentum.
The Lady Red Devils entered the quarter up 30-21, but Northside fought back quickly to close the gap. After a pair of free throws by Stephens shortened the lead to 32-27, Christine Council capitalized on Red Springs’ inability to respond with a layup that brought the Monarchs within three.
Another score by Stephens put the visitors in position to take the lead. Timia Grant followed with a bucket near the end of the quarter that gave Northside a 33-32 lead going into the final period.
The Monarchs continued to attack early in the fourth behind a quick-hitting transition offense. After Red Springs saw their deficit grow to 32-37, a 3-pointer from Kelsey Locklear ignited a run from the Lady Red Devils that ended with the score being tied at 40.
Northside controlled the pace for the remainder of the game, using a 12-0 run to put the hosts away for good. Stephens and Grant, who combined 16 points in the fourth quarter, were instrumental in helping Northside pull away.
“We have prided ourselves in being in great shape all year,” Northside head coach Chad Novelli said. “We work hard in practice so that when it comes down to the third and fourth quarter, they still have their legs.”
Taylynn Atkinson registered a team-high 12 points for Red Springs. Sha’nia Leach added 10 points for the Lady Red Devils, who tallied 14 points in the second half after scoring 28 in the first.
“They played a good game,” Sinclair said. “When we came in we knew it was an evenly matched game. It was just a couple mistakes down the stretch. I think we made our run a little bit too early and ran out of gas.”
Grant chipped in 12 points to go along with Adella Burrell’s seven for the Monarchs. Stephens proved to be a critical part of Northside’s game plan on both ends of the floor, especially in the late stages of the contest.
“When it’s time for the game to go on someone’s shoulders, she says ‘jump on’,” Novelli said. “She’s done that for us time and time again. That’s why she is, in my opinion, one of the greatest guards in the state.”