CHAPEL HILL — Playing for a state championship for the first time in program history, the Seaforth girls basketball team dropped the 2A title game to Salisbury, 48-39, on Saturday night at the Dean E. Smith Center.
The Hawks (27-4) opened the game on a 13-0 run, but they couldn't hold off the Hornets — who claimed their second straight 2A title on Saturday — for long.
The Hawks asserted their presence on the defensive end from the jump. On the first possession, freshman Katherine Leonard swiped a Hornet guard, foreshadowing a period that saw Seaforth’s patent 2-3 zone wreak havoc.
Moments later, junior guard Hannah Ajayi curled off a feed from sophomore guard Gabby White and finished an uncontested layup. Sophomore Peyton Collins would join the scoring act with a short range floater to give the Hawks an early four-point lead.
Seaforth would continue to have its way, forcing air balls and wayward shots on the defense. A Collins corner triple late in the first quarter would stretch the Hawks’ lead to 13, forcing Salisbury to call timeout.
At the 1:20 mark of the first period, the Hornets would get on the board as senior forward Haley Dalton converted a three-point play. Salisbury would close out the quarter on a 9-2 run to cut Seaforth’s advantage to six points.
The Hornets continued to find their groove in the next period behind their newly deployed trap zone. Salisbury's varied trapping strategies — deploying it off the first pass, in corners or near the timeline — helped it claw back into the game and eventually capture the momentum.
“It was really different. We worked a lot this week on (playing against) man,” White said. So to see them in a 2-3 kind of messed up our game plan. We just didn’t have enough time to really get used to the new defense.”
With under three minutes remaining in the first half, junior wing Makayla Noble finished from short range to give the Hornets their first lead of the game, 21-19, one which they continued to build. Late in the half, Leonard’s second triple of the night helped Seaforth cut its halftime deficit to three.
Out of the halftime break, the Hawks looked to challenge the heart of Salisbury’s zone. White weaved her way toward the cup and sophomore forward Sydney Ballard posted up inside. Both girls both drew shooting fouls and combined to make two free throws, cutting Seaforth’s hole to a single point.
At 3:05 in the quarter, White was called for an offensive foul after hooking a Hornet defender en route to driving to the basket. The personal foul was White’s fourth of the game, and head coach Charles Byrd was forced to sit the Hawks’ lead guard.
“That was a pivotal, pivotal moment,” Byrd said. “We had gained some momentum; that was a very crucial part of the game.”
Despite having its leading scorer glued to the bench, Seaforth was able to momentarily fend off Salisbury's pressure. But with the third quarter clock ticking down, Salisbury guard Kyla Bryant converted an and-one opportunity and the Hornets took the lead into the final period, 33-30..
To start the final eight minutes of play, White subbed back in and looked to kickstart the Hawks’ offense. But Seaforth started the crucial period ice cold from the field — missing its first six shot attempts — and the Hornets built an 11-point cushion.
The Hawks would cut its deficit down to as little as seven points late in the game, but clutch free throws from Bryant and a last-second transition layup from wing Makayla Noble helped Salisbury prevail, 48-39.