Race to the Top

A breakdown of next week’s girls conference basketball tournaments

Entering the final week of the regular season, the brackets are all but set for the Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference girls basketball tournament, slated to begin Monday, Feb. 13 at Weddington High School. While the five county teams in the league are all looking up at leader Anson High and its 8-1 conference mark (15-5 overall), several teams are more than capable of bringing home the conference tournament trophy.

Porter Ridge (20-2 overall, 7-2 conference) took second place in the league’s regular-season standings, thanks to a recent five-game win streak in which they downed Anson, Weddington and Parkwood – by an average of 19 points apiece. The stretch was a good sign for Pirates coach Ina Thompson, whose team started the season 13-0 before dropping two games in a two-week period and appeared to be struggling down the stretch.

“I felt earlier – and we even talked about this as a team – (that) we peaked too soon,” said Thompson. “I hope that’s not the case. Last week, that was my challenge to the girls: ‘Have we seen the best of us yet?’”

Apparently not, as the Pirates are starting to benefit from the seasoning that only comes with experience. While junior guards Jada Huntley (16 points per game) and Jasmine Huntley (14 points per game) have led the way in the scoring department all season, the Pirates have started to get strong performances from sophomores such as Bobbi Jones and Jade Jones.

But perhaps more encouraging has been the recent play of freshmen Ireland Massey and Kara Cunningham. Massey grabbed eight rebounds and scored four points in the Pirates’ win over Anson last week, while Cunningham scored six points with two rebounds, five steals and two assists.

Despite a recent three-game slide, the Parkwood Rebels (13-8, 5-4) are very much in the hunt for a conference tournament title as well. Parkwood won the tournament last year and rode the momentum all the way to a Class 3A Western Regional appearance, and new coach Don Mather thinks his team is finally in position to repeat last year’s success.

“I think it’s taken a little while this year to find our identity, but we’re starting to find it,” Mather said. “I feel like we’re now ready to move forward. I think (the players) are excited, and I think they’re ready to go.”

After the departure of last year’s conference player of the year, Morgan Brown, Mather said the Rebels have struggled at times this season to score. But the weakness was hidden early thanks to a team-wide approach to rebounding (41.2 per game), led by Emry Tsitouris (13.1) and Justice McKinney (10.4).

“That helps clean up a lot of other issues,” Mather said.

Now, the Rebels have nine players who average at least one point per game, led by Tsitouris (15.6), Cadeja Hood (9.6), Bailey Sims (8.4) and Justice McKinney (8.4).

Despite their 3-6 league mark, the Weddington Warriors also could make some noise at the tournament. The Warriors have faced a tough schedule and have registered wins over Forest Hills, Parkwood and Monroe, which hardly makes Weddington coach Ryun Cook’s club an easy out. In fact, with the deft scoring touch of freshman Stephanie Watts (19.1 points, 7.7 rebounds per game) and the inside presence of senior center Emily Moore (9.7 points, 6.5 rebounds), Weddington must be considered a dark horse to bring home the hardware.

Don’t forget about Marvin Ridge and Sun Valley, though. The Mavs have lost six of seven games entering their season finale against Weddington on Friday, Feb. 10 and might need to win the tournament to grab the league’s third, and final, Class 3A state playoff bid. With 6-foot-3 center Jordan Henry (13.4 points, 14.6 rebounds per game) and sweet-shooting seniors Rachel Walker (10.4 points per game) and Anna Lipocky (7.7 points), it wouldn’t be shocking.

The Spartans, already assured one of the league’s 4A playoff bids with a 8-13 overall record and 2-7 in the league, probably will open tournament play against Anson, which beat the Spartans in both meetings this season by an average of 20.5 points.

Rocky River 1A/2A

After finishing last season with a 10-14 record, the Forest Hills girls team has been one of the county’s biggest surprises with a 15-6 record, which includes a 10-2 Rocky River 1A/2A mark. Next week, they’ll try to bring the tournament title back to Union County for the first time since the Yellow Jackets won it in 2008. Since then, the title has been split between North Stanly (2011 and 2009) and Charlotte’s Berry Academy (2010).

Forest Hills coach Pop Rivers doesn’t need to be convinced about the importance of tournament play. Last year the Yellow Jackets lost in the first round but still advanced to the Class 2A playoffs, where they took a tough North Lincoln team to overtime before finally losing.

“I built on that, and the team built on that,” said Rivers. “There was nothing to hang our heads about. We proved we could hang with some of the best (teams).”

That experience has helped, especially now that sophomores such as Tonjai Everett (17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.4 steals per game) and Shay Bivens (18.8 points, 3.6 steals per game) enter this postseason with last year’s experience.

Monroe (15-6, 9-3) also is a strong contender for the tournament title, behind the strong play of Shakira Jordan (18.5 points per game), Asha Jordan and Daya Jordan. The Redhawks have a shot at the league’s second seed if they can close the season with a win over Forest Hills in their season finale on Friday.

The battle for the fourth seed should come down to the final game, as Piedmont (6-15, 5-7) and Cuthbertson (9-12, 6-6) square off to close their seasons. Piedmont has lost five of its last seven games, while Cuthbertson has taken control of its fate by winning four of its last seven games. Central Academy of Technology & Arts (3-16, 2-10) and Union Academy (0-17, 0-12) will fill the tournament’s seventh and eighth seeds, respectively.

Metrolina Athletic Conference

With a 2-13 overall record and a 1-9 Metrolina Athletic Conference record, the Metrolina Christian Warriors will begin the league tournament as the seventh seed. The tournament begins Tuesday, Feb. 14 at Charlotte’s Northside Christian Academy. The Warriors haven’t won since a Dec. 6 decision over Gaston Christian.

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