Feb 23, 2014
Julius Barnes (10) drives strong with the ball. SE Raleigh visits Garner on Wednesday, February. 19, 2014. SE Raleigh lead the first half but Garner came back to win with a last second 3 pointer to win the game 61 - 58. (Photo By: Beth Jewell)
It’s the playoffs, folks.
Never mind the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s seven-hour process of posting preliminary brackets Saturday afternoon and weeding out the abundance of inaccuracies across the board. Never mind the fact that incredible inconvenient winter weather had teams all over the state hustling right up the very last minute of the regular season to squeeze everything in. Never mind that many conference tournaments were tossed out the window. It’s finally the playoffs.
And in the playoffs, nothing else matters. Forget the regular-season records. Forget the eight-game losing streak your team started its season on. Forget that your team frequently beats others by more than 50 points. It’s the playoffs. Nothing else matters.
Yet at the same time, everything matters more. The outcomes matter more. The loose balls and missed opportunities matter more. Even the snide and no-so-subtle bickering from subjective fans over the state of the game’s officiating and the equality/inequality of total team fouls is going to dial up a few notches. Seriously, it’s going to happen and I’m dreading it.
Anyway, Seeding Saturday offered few shocks once the mistakes were found, the smoke began to clear and the brackets were finalized. In the boys’ portion of the 4-A East, Northern Durham, Clayton and Millbrook were all awarded top-five seeds after their dominant regular-season campaigns. On the girls’ side, powerhouses like Millbrook, Southeast Raleigh, Cary and Hillside are sitting at or near the top.
Some local teams are favorites to make deep runs through this bracket, while some face strong challenges on the first day of the playoffs.
Here are the 4-A East first-round games that intrigue me the most:
(21) Leesville Road @ (12) Jordan (Boys)
With a 7-3 record, the Jordan Falcons finished second in the Pac-6 4-A conference behind 2-seed Northern Durham. The Falcons sputtered a bit late in their season and have lost three of their last five games. With a 9-5 Cap-8 record, Leesville Road enters the state playoffs as the 21-seed in the 4-A East. They have not lost to an opponent other than Millbrook since Jan. 3. Expect this to be a closely contested game.
(18) Knightdale @ (15) Jordan (Girls)
Here’s my bit of #analysis for this one: The Knightdale girls are better than an 18-seed. Going 9-4 in the Greater Neuse River 4-A conference, the Knights have several speedy and offensively-gifted players, including Mikaya Wilson and Lovely Locklear. Jordan, however, is no slouch either. The Falcons finished second this season in the Pac-6 conference and have a number of players who step up and produce. In the last Jordan game I watched, freshman Rachel Ruderman finished with 18 points while Salita Green turned in a double-double with 21 points and 16 rebounds. This first-round game will feature a lot of talented athletes.
(18) Middle Creek @ (15) Hoggard (Boys)
The Middle Creek Mustangs hit a snag in late December and early January but have won nine of their last ten games entering the playoffs as 6-foot-7 senior Fred Iruafemi continues to play well. The Creek will be an underdog when it flows to Wilmington on Monday to take on the Hoggard Vikings. Junior guard Trae Bryant leads the Vikings’ attack with 16.4 points per game.
(23) Wilmington Laney @ (10) East Wake (Girls)
With wins against Millbrook, Clayton (twice) and Knightdale (twice), the East Wake Warrior girls’ team is very strong. Laney, on the other hand, went 21-5 this season and 9-3 in its conference. This will be a showdown between two very accomplished groups of girls. East Wake plays a bit faster on the court, scoring 56.7 points per game compared to Laney’s 42.7.
(20) Lumberton @ (13) Garner (Boys)
The Garner Trojans had ups and downs in the beginning part of their season, but an 11-game win streak drops the team into the playoffs at its hottest point of the year. The team has yet to lose in February and is coming off a thrilling last-second win over Southeast Raleigh. Lumberton has won five of its last six games but will have to make the 87-mile drive north to face the Trojans.
(25) Clayton @ (8) Wilmington Ashley (Girls)
The Clayton Comets and Ashley Screaming Eagles have similar overall records, but Ashley finished first in the 4-A Mideastern conference against teams including New Hanover, Laney and Hoggard. Clayton also played tough competition throughout the season in the GNRC. The Comets will travel to Wilmington on Monday night and coach Marlon Lee will rely on a number of scorers including Taisha Murphy, Ashley Murphy, Amber Caudle and Jenna Harris to get the team to the second round.
(19) Hillside @ (14) Greenville Rose (Boys)
With a 5-5 conference record, the Hillside Hornets have a punched ticket to Greenville for Monday night to take on the Rose Rampants. Rose finished 10-2 in its conference during the regular season. Hillside will have a slight size advantage in the game, but will Justice Kitchart and the Hillside offense put up enough points to spring the upset?
(30) Green Hope @ (3) Cary (Girls)
The Cary Imps and Duke recruit Azura Stevens will be heavy favorites to win this game and go far in the 4-A East bracket, and rightfully so. Stevens is having a remarkable statistical season and Cary hasn’t lost since Jan. 7. Still, Green Hope has wins over playoff contenders including Holly Springs, Apex and Panther Creek, and the Falcons took Cary to overtime earlier in the year before eventually losing by ten. The Falcons and Imps know each other well, which could make for an interesting game in the first-round conference rematch.
Follow Zach Mayo on Twitter at @ZachMayoHSOT