The Leesville men’s basketball team rallied from a large second-half deficit but fell in the closing minutes to East Wake in the first round of the 4A state playoffs, ending their 2014-15 season on Sunday.
A three-point play from Ben Zemonek, junior, to play capped the 18th-seeded Pride’s comeback from a 38-24 deficit to take a 53-52 lead with under four minutes to play. The 15th-seeded host Warriors responded with a 8-1 run, however, and scored 11 of the game’s last 15 points to win 63-57.
“We didn’t execute well in the first half [and] came out slow and sluggish,” said head coach Russ Frazier, whose team trailed 24-11 during the second quarter and 30-22 at halftime. “[We] fought back in the second [half], but just couldn’t…get everything under control.”
A plethora of basket-and-foul three-point plays from Zemonek, Alex Hunter and Eric Scollard helped Leesville regain momentum as the game went on and eventually claim their first lead since 4-2. The Pride struggled to neutralize East Wake’s significant size advantage, however, and were out-rebounded throughout the game.
“We took the lead and gave it right back 10 seconds later,” said Frazier. “Basketball is a rollercoaster…one second you’re on the ride up, next second you’re going back down. That’s what makes it fun though.”
Leesville trailed 19-9 after a bleak first quarter, perhaps rusty after a two-week, snow-related break from practice and games.
“We had no defense at all [in the first quarter]. We just weren’t moving,” lamented Zemonek. “Having two weeks off with no practice…messes with the chemistry and the team.”
Jonathan Mebane, sophomore, led the team with 16 points, followed by Zemonek’s 14 and Hunter’s 13. Scollard added nine points.
Leesville ends the season 14-11 overall but 10-4 in the highly competitive Cap-8 conference. The team played a brutally difficult schedule, including 12 games against eventual playoff teams — two each against defending state champion Apex and Raleigh powerhouses Millbrook and Broughton. Leesville is the only team besides Millbrook to beat Broughton so far.
The program graduates depth players Cory Subasic, Julian Keeler and Blair Simpson but returns all five starters from this year’s team. 2015-16 could be a peak in the rise to promise of Leesville men’s basketball, which has now made the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
“It was a great season,” said Zemonek. “We’ve just got to come back next year and try to be even stronger than this year.”