Seldom does ‘Season Finale Friday’ decide a pair of league titles in head-to-head meetings but that’s on the docket as South Robeson's girls travel to Lake Waccamaw followed by Fairmont’s bounce back try against St. Pauls in a highly-anticipated rivalry rematch.
For the first time in three seasons, the Three Rivers Conference regular season championship in both girls and boys basketball will be decided outright in the final game. All four teams tonight receive byes in next week’s league tournaments and the ultimate prize of a top seed in the state playoffs has been a season-long goal for each.
“Our guys know that we still have a lot to play for,” Fairmont coach Michael Baker said after his team’s 37-game conference winning streak was snapped on Tuesday. “They know what’s in front of us.”
St. Pauls coach Travis Lemanski says a previous loss to Fairmont is out of his team’s system and after five consecutive wins, the Bulldogs are playing defensive-minded basketball. St. Pauls spent Wednesday afternoon in Fayetteville at Buffalo Wild Wings, an outing Lemanksi promised if his team won its remaining games before the rematch with the Golden Tornadoes.
“It was a great experience and the guys really enjoyed it,” he said. “I think we’re focused, hungry and ready to play at Fairmont.”
Fairmont is 6-1 after a loss since moving all the way to a No. 1 ranking in 2010. During that same span, the Golden Tornadoes have won 62 games and beaten St. Pauls all seven times.
At East Columbus, the Lady Mustangs are seeking their third conference championship in four years, all under Lula Ratley.
Led by a star-studded senior class that included Nicorie Sinclair and Krista Davis, South Robeson went 19-1 in conference play during the 2009 and 2010 seasons before finishing in fifth place last year. The Lady Mustangs (13-7, 7-2) battle the Lady Gators (14-5, 7-2) tonight for this season’s crown.
“The girls are really buying in to what we’re trying to do and what we’re hoping to accomplish,” Ratley said before Thursday’s final preparations. “We’re in the running again and that’s all I can ask for. It’s exciting not only for me, but for my players and for our school.”
The addition of freshman Aterria Quick this season has given the Lady Mustangs a scoring presence they missed last season. Quick is Robeson County’s leading scorer at 23.9 points per game and has made the area’s third-most 3-pointers.
One of her breakthrough outings this season was on the final day of the Shootout at UNCP when she lit up Dillon, S.C. with 29 points. Quick scored 28 in Tuesday’s win over Red Springs.
“What she brings to our team with her skill set has helped us tremendously,” Ratley said.
South Robeson’s best attribute down the stretch has been its ability to score in transition. Four of seven conference wins have come by double digits and the Lady Mustangs have outscored their opponent on the fast break in each contest. “We’ve done a good job of taking care of the basketball and pushing it down the floor,” Ratley said.
“Consistency is what we preach and we’ve been able to get out and run.”
Junior guard Savanna Hunt has come on strong in recent weeks with increased minutes, scoring in double figures six consecutive games. Hunt is averaging 11.5 points per game and is second on the team in assists.
Veterans Virginiya McCormick, Ahlea Dickens and Jaquel Stackhouse have each contributed to the team’s success this season according to Ratley and lead the Lady Mustangs on the defensive side of the ball. Attention to defense, especially in the post, is vital in tonight’s game against East Columbus.
The Lady Gators are coming off a 72-44 win over Fairmont led by a game-high 21-point effort from Lauren Jenkins. Head coach Troy Snowden’s squad won the only previous meeting against South Robeson this season 52-49.
“East Columbus has a very good team and we’re expecting another great game with them,” Ratley said. “Since we’re small and not very big, our defense has to step up and win the game for us.”
Projected Three Rivers Conference Championship Game Starting Lineups
BOYS: St. Pauls (16-6, 8-1) -- Malik Livingston, Jr., 14.8 PPG; Deion Gilchrist, Sr., 13.9 PPG; Dustin Canady, Sr., 6.7 PPG; Kane Banner, Sr., 8.8 PPG; Jaquell Johnson, Sr., 7.1 PPG; Fairmont (19-4, 8-1) -- Jackie Oxendine, Sr., 8.7 PPG; Jarrod Neal, Jr., 7.1 PPG; Shemar Barfield, Jr., 14.5 PPG; Kwinton Hinson, Soph., 20.9 PPG; Luke Hunt, Sr., 8.3 PPG
GIRLS: South Robeson (13-7, 7-2) -- Aterria Quick, Frosh., 23.9 PPG; Savanna Hunt, Jr., 11.5 PPG; Virginiya McCormick, Sr., 6.5 PPG; Ahlea Dickens, Sr., 6.4 PPG; Jaquel Stackhouse, Jr., 4.5 PPG. East Columbus (14-5, 7-2) -- Brittany Hall, Sr., 11.9 PPG; De’Maya Berry, Jr., 6.3 PPG; Kayla Brown, Soph., 5.4 PPG; Lauren Jenkins, Jr., 10.5 PPG; Meonti Campbell, Sr., 11.2 PPG