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WAKE FOREST — Last year, Wakefield’s boys basketball team won the NAC 6 conference championship after Heritage won it the previous season.
This year, the Huskies took back what they earned two years ago by beating both Wake Forest and Knightdale at home.
Heritage defeated Knightdale 65-50 Monday to tie for first in the conference. Then on Tuesday the Huskies took down Wake Forest 64-56 to win the conference title.
“It feels awesome to win the NAC 6 conference championship,” Heritage head coach Tilden Brill said. “We’re moving on to the next game now. There’s still so much more to play for. We’ll enjoy this one.”
Tre Waller, who is the only player on the roster to play all four years on varsity, was excited to get the conference title back after winning it with the team his sophomore year.
“It feels great to get the conference championship back,” Waller said. “We had it taken away from us last year. We all had a goal to get it back this season. We came together and reached that point again.”
In their most recent outing against Wake Forest on Tuesday, Heritage started off a bit slow on both offense and defense. The Cougars opened up the game with a 10-4 run and then extended that lead to 15-7. The Huskies trailed 20-13 going into the second quarter.
In the second period, Heritage started off the quarter with a 9-0 run to take a 22-20 lead. Wake Forest quickly took back the advantage at 23-22 and held onto it at 26-22 at halftime.
In the third quarter, there were three lead changes. Heritage went up 43-41 right before the end of the period.
In the fourth quarter, the Huskies took their biggest lead of the night at 59-50 with less than three minutes left in the game. From that point on, Heritage took control and ended the night with a victory to avoid the upset on senior night.
“We were getting good shots all game, but they just weren’t going in,” Brill said. “We finally had the poise to execute a little better in the fourth quarter. The guys did a better job playing with a higher basketball IQ”
Waller said he and his teammates were in a slump in the first half. They rallied together as a team to end the night with a victory.
“We weren’t playing our best basketball early on,” Waller said. “We knew that if we fight together as a team, we can do well. We fought back tonight.”
Lucas Taylor was the player of the game against Wake Forest. The junior guard dropped 27 points for the Huskies, with 22 of them coming in the second half.
Redford Dunton sat out in the second half after only scoring two free throws in the first quarter. Brill said his junior forward experienced a back injury in their game against Rolesville on Jan. 24, but he went on to say that it’s not too serious and he should be back in time for the 4A state playoffs.
As for Waller, he contributed eight points in his final regular-season home game of his high school career. The point guard has started for the Huskies the past three years on varsity.
“It was tough playing my final regular season home game,” Waller said. “It was also fun at the same time. I didn’t play my best game, but it was fun being out there with my teammates. We had to go out with a win.”
Brill said all of his seniors have played a big part in bringing the NAC 6 conference championship back home this year.
“All of our seniors have contributed to this program,” Brill said. “Our manager Lars Gjelhaug helps with keeping stats. Tre Waller, Alvin Campbell and Kyler Bowden have their fingerprints on this conference championship. I’m so proud of them for showing people how to do it.”
With the win, Heritage improved to 14-8 overall and first in the NAC 6 conference at 8-1. Now that winning the conference title is out of the way, the Huskies can focus on accomplishing even bigger goals in the near future.
“The next step is coming to practice every day focused and mentally locked in,” Waller said. “Each game is the most important game. We have to come in with that mentality to make a state playoff run.”
Heritage will cap off the regular season at Rolesville on Friday, Feb. 14, at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve got to work on finishing,” Brill said. “We have to have the mental toughness to finish this thing off.”
Heritage avenged its earlier loss to Knightdale this season with a convincing 65-50 victory at home Monday.
Knightdale started the game with an 8-3 run. Heritage pulled off a 9-0 run to take the lead at 12-8. Knightdale made a layup at the buzzer to make the score 12-10 going into the second quarter.
In the second quarter, the Huskies took firm control of the contest with a 16-4 run to go up 28-14. Knightdale added one more basket to make the score 28-16 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Heritage took its first 20-point lead of the game at 45-24. It was smooth sailing from there as the Huskies went into the fourth period up 48-26.
Knightdale improved offensively in the fourth quarter, but it was too late for the team. Heritage cruised ahead to a 65-50 blowout win over its conference opponent.
“The 1-3-1 zone forced Knightdale’s offense to slow down,” Brill said. “Knightdale is a really athletic team. We got stops on defense. Tonight was the best defensive rebounding performance I’ve seen all season.”
Leading the charge for Heritage was Taylor. The junior guard was first on his squad with 23 points in the win.
“I just took my time on offense tonight,” Taylor said. “I was making sure I was getting good shots in. The other guys got involved. They really helped me out as well.”
In their last match-up, Knightdale beat Heritage 66-59. This time, the Huskies switched things up defensively to even the season series.
“Tonight was a testament to our coaching staff,” Taylor said. “We looked back at the film from our last game at Knightdale and made a lot of adjustments. The zone defense helped us out a lot.”
Offensively, Heritage played better as well. Dunton scored 16 points and both Waller and Jalen Rochelle contributed with seven points.
“I thought we shared the basketball well,” Brill said. “There was unselfishness. Tre Waller always finds a way to get the ball in the bucket. Jalen Rochelle hit some big 3-pointers and played great defense. All that added up. I’m really proud of the guys for their effort.”