Current players on the Camden, Currituck and Edenton girls basketball teams had never experienced a conference tournament victory.
That all changed in opening round play Monday within a few hours.
“We talked all week about how we could do some damage in the tournament. The girls took it to heart,” said Currituck coach Lindsey Cahoon after her Lady Knights, seeded last, knocked off No. 2 Northeastern 73-56 in the Northeastern Coastal Conference tournament. “Honestly at times they surprised me, and I’m a little speechless with the show they put on.”
In another NCC first-round matchup, No. 5 seed Edenton upended No. 4 Hertford 43-29.
Local Four Rivers Conference rivals Camden and Perquimans faced off with the No. 5 Lady Bruins beating the No. 4 Lady Pirates 58-49, their second win against Perquimans in a week.
It’s made for a break from the norm entering tonight’s semifinal action, even if all three remain underdogs: The Lady Aces (13-8) will play at NCC No. 1 and league unbeaten Pasquotank (20-1) and No. 7 Currituck (6-16) gets a third chance to beat No. 3 Bertie (18-4).
The winners earn the right to play at Elizabeth City State in the NCC girls final on Friday.
Camden (7-16), winners of four of its last five, hope to continue a late season surge against No. 1 seed Plymouth (18-3) in the FRC semifinals at South Creek in Robersonville.
“We’ve played them tough both times, and we were down five in one game at the half,” said Lady Bruins coach Scott Jones, who saw his team fight back after starting the season 0-12. “We probably match up better with Plymouth than (co-FRC regular season champ) Riverside.
“It’s been a process and to watch them get better has been great. They’ve hung in there and done exactly what we’ve asked.”
Lady Aces coach David Peeler expected his squad to beat Hertford, but he doesn’t think the recent shake-up gives hs team or other lower seeds any advantage tonight.
And there’s playoff implications for Edenton riding on the NCC Tournament. If it loses either tonight or Friday, then postseason hopes remain on the bubble, hinging on a possible 2A wild card bid.
Currituck and Hertford automatically get the NCC’s two 3A playoff bids, and Camden should reach the postseason as the FRC’s fifth-best team.
“I think Currituck had the game of their lives, but for us and anybody, they have to go through Pasquotank,” Peeler said. “They’re the No. 1 team. We’re back to worrying about one game at a time, because there may not be another time. It’s crunch time now, one-and-done.”
While the Lady Bruins and Edenton, which actually finished tied with Hertford for fourth in the NCC, showed signs weeeks earlier of breaking through their recent tournament barriers, it’s Currituck that’s become the major surprise off its best performance in years.
Four different Lady Knights — Megan Sample (season high 24 points), Kayla Powell (15), Amanda Gerni (14) and Katin Newbern (14) — scored 14 or more in Currituck’s biggest single-game scoring output in Cahoon’s four seasons on the job.
Powell, a Daily Advance All-Area player last season, also grabbed 10 rebounds and had five blocked shots.
Before beating the host Lady Eagles on Monday, Currituck had lost nine of its last 10 games.
But Cahoon points to evidence of improvement that just hasn’t shown up in victories, at least until now.
The Lady Knights lost both prior meetings to NHS by just single digits (51-42 on Jan. 24 and 56-48 on Jan. 30).
A more experienced bunch, which had won just three NCC games combined in the last four seasons, showed poise and maturity down the stretch when Northeastern threatened to rally, Cahoon said.
“We’ve been so young for so long, and finally this year we’ve got some upperclassmen,” said Cahoon, who has seven juniors and will lose just one senior, Powell. “I understand our record isn’t what we envisioned, but there’s only been 2-3 games we haven’t been in at the end. We were able to put together all four quarters.
“I really don’t know if I could be any more excited for them.”
Edenton, with its first winning season since 2009, gets to tangle with a Lady Panthers team it played close at Pasquotank until the last few minutes of a 57-43 loss on Feb. 12.
“We felt pretty good that we could’ve won that game at Pasquotank if we would’ve done a couple of things differently, but they’re No. 1 for a reason,” Peeler said. “It’s back where we just played them at, so we’re used to those goals, and we’ll see what happens.”
The Lady Knights have reason for optimism, too. Although Bertie posted 91 points in its blowout of No. 6 First Flight on Monday, Currituck battled Bertie to a tight 44-41 loss in Barco on Feb. 5.
After Monday’s wild ride, anything is possible, no matter past records.
“The girls are pretty focused, and I don’t think winning Monday will change their focus,” Cahoon said. “They would all like to play at Elizabeth City State, and that’s a motivator to make them work just as hard.”
And a chance to see inspired runs by unexpected teams culminate in lower seeds playing for the NCC tournament title.
“If it did happen, then that might be something to talk about,” Peeler said.