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PG Easter, North Lincoln girls aim for strong finish

Ray Gora / Lincoln Times-News
ABOVE: North Lincoln freshman Sidney Russell makes a run at the basket against Lincolnton earlier in the season.

MICHAEL GEBELEIN
Sports Editor

A basketball team that graduates seven seniors is usually due for a tough rebuilding year.
But the North Lincoln Lady Knights girls varsity team, which did just that, is sitting in second place in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference standings with five regular season games to go, and is one game behind first place Lincolnton (13-4, 8-1) and Lake Norman Charter (13-4, 8-1).
“We had a lot of work to do,” North Lincoln head coach Lynn Rhyne said. “We’re very young. I expected we’d have to work for everything we got. I always like to be higher up but with this team right now and what they’ve had to work toward we’re probably where we need to be.”
The Lady Knights (13-6, 7-2) can knock off one of the first-place teams today when they host Lincolnton.  North Lincoln dropped the first meeting between the two teams this season 49-31 on Dec. 21, and managed to score in double digits in the fourth quarter alone.
“Lincolnton has a very good, strong fundamental team, and Lake Norman Charter does too, Rhyne said. “I think when they looked at how young we are they might have said, ‘well, we beat them once; we can come in and beat them again.’ But the girls have a different attitude. Their attitude is that they’re going to work had and not take anyone lightly, just like they can’t take us lightly.”
Since the first game against Lincolnton, North Lincoln has a 7-2 overall record, losing to Bandys in the Peoples Bank Holiday Clash tournament and Lake Norman Charter 67-50 on Jan. 22. The Lady Knights took conference wins over Cherryville (twice), Bessemer City, West Lincoln, East Lincoln and Highland Tech.
“We just have to play hard (against Lincolnton),” North Lincoln junior guard Antaijah Easter said. “We have to hit our shots. Last time we couldn’t hit anything.”
Hitting shots hasn’t been a problem lately for Easter, Lincoln County’s leading scorer with 25.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. She’s scored 30-plus points in five of the Lady Knights’ last six games and is shooting 50 percent from the field on the season with 41 3-pointers.
“Antaijah is just that type of player,” Rhyne said. “She knows the game and she works hard everywhere we go. She’s not selfish with the basketball. And it’s paid off. Her teammates look at her as a leader but they don’t look at her as somebody who is out there for herself. Her teammates have rallied around her.”
The lone senior on the team, 5-foot-9 center Payton Bruce (12.8 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game), said the Lady Knights’ teamwork should help them finish strong.
“We need to win every game,” she said. “We’re all pretty positive. We don’t have many attitudes and we work well together.”
Rhyne echoed Bruce’s sentiments, saying the absence of “drama” was a major plus for this year’s squad.
“The girls have come together as a team,” Rhyne said. “We’ve watched them over the last two or three months and they’ve seemed to start clicking better. I think that’s going to help them coming up on these last conference games. They’re looking for each other, not just depending on one or two people on the floor.”

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