East Surry’s boys’ and girls’ basketball seasons both came to an end in the first round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs on Tuesday night, but not until the final seconds of each contest.
In Bryson City, the Cardinals paid a visit to Smoky Mountain Conference champion Swain County, and led for much of the way against the second seed in the West before falling 86-81. The Cardinals, who led 52-40 at halftime of a fast-paced game, still had the ball with 10.6 seconds remaining, trailing 83-81 with a chance to tie or win the game, but couldn’t get a shot to fall. Meanwhile, back home in Pilot Mountain, the Lady Cardinals were hosting Robbinsville, also representing the Smoky Mountain Conference, and also led for much of the game before falling 62-61.
In the boys’ game, East Surry was a heavy underdog to a Maroon Devils team that entered the playoffs at 22-3, but the seeding and record didn’t tell the whole story, as the Cardinals’ strength of schedule was massively higher. In the game, East Surry led by one (18-17) at the end of the first quarter, but then gunned in 34 points in the second to lead by a dozen at the break. Swain rallied in the second half, but still trailed 66-62 at the end of the third quarter.
The Maroon Devils played a strong fourth quarter and pulled ahead at the three-minute mark. Swain led by five with two minutes remaining, but the Cardinals had closed to within two again, at 78-76, with 72 seconds remaining. However, East Surry could never make the play it needed in order to get back in front. A few free throws at the end of the game decided the verdict in favor of the home team.
In the girls’ contest, East Surry (15-12) took an early 18-8 lead and was ahead for most of the contest, but the Lady Cardinals could never pull away, never pushing its advantage much beyond 10 at any point in the game. East Surry still led 50-42 going into the final period, but the Lady Knights (16-11) opened the fourth on an 8-4 run and trailed just 54-50 with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter.
The games were the final contests in the East Surry careers of girls players Maddi Pennington and Bryce Smith, and for the boys’ Luke Cartwright, Luke Horton and Adam Burke.