A.L. Brown faces crunch time

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 16, 2007

By Bill Kiser

Kannapolis Citizen

It’s coming down to crunch time for A.L. Brown’s boys and girls basketball teams, and the Wonders’ play over the next several week could determine whether they’ll get into the state playoffs or get to watch from the grandstands.

A.L. Brown finds itself playing in Union County twice this week, traveling to Monroe to face Piedmont on Tuesday, Jan. 16, and Sun Valley on Friday, Jan. 19.

Brown then returns to Bullock Gymnasium the following week when it hosts Anson County on Jan. 23.

The Wonders’ boys (11-5, 4-1) are still in the thick of things in the South Piedmont Conference, sitting in a tie with cross-town rival Concord for second place in the league, and trailing conference frontrunner Porter Ridge by one-half game.

“We’ve got two big games this week,” A.L. Brown head coach Shelwyn Klutz said. “Hopefully we can keep playing the way we have. … It’d be great for us if we could pull it out (win the conference title).

“Coming into the season, nobody really expected us to do anything — we only had one starter back — so it’d be a great thing for our program if we can pull this out.”

And Brown goes into this week’s game riding a two-game winning streak. The Wonders hammered Parkwood 84-56 on Jan. 9 to snap a two-game losing streak, then started its first winning streak since mid-December — Brown won five straight between Dec. 8-21 — by edging non-conference foe Salisbury 64-60 on Jan. 12.

Senior guard Josh Gray was the key to both of those wins. He equaled his season high with a 28-point effort in the Wonders’ victory over Parkwood, then bettered it three days later by scoring a career-high 35 points in beating the Hornets.

“He probably played the best I’ve ever seen him play the other night against Salisbury,” Klutz said. “He had the intensity, he got his teammates involved — he played an overall good game for us.”

Against Salisbury, Gray carried the Wonders — whose second-leading scorer, J.D. Davidson, had just seven points — hitting 15-of-24 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. That included a run of 14 consecutive points in the third quarter as Brown trailed by one entering the final eight minutes.

“I felt in the zone, like there was nobody out there that could stop me,” Gray told the Salisbury Post after the game

But the game wasn’t decided until the final nine seconds, when Jacob Newman hit a pair of free throws to put the Wonders up 62-60, then Kenneth Yates picked off the inbounds pass and fed Gray for a game-ending layup.

“Every game is critical now,” Klutz said. “We start our second round of games … and we’re trying to qualify for the playoffs.”

A.L. Brown’s girls, however, are trying to pull out of a downward spiral that has seen the Wonders slip into the basemen of the South Piedmont Conference standings.

Brown (5-11, 1-4) has lost four straight games and five of its last six since Christmas, including double-digit defeats at the hands of Parkwood (57-30 on Jan. 9) and non-conference foe Salisbury (56-23 on Jan. 12).

The losses dropped the Wonders into last place in the conference standings, and they trail Anson County by one-half game entering this week’s road games.

Senior guard Marla Powell, who has signed with Wingate, is close to breaking the 1,000-point barrier for Brown. She has 972 career points entering the week, including a scoreless game — her lowest point total of the season — in Friday’s loss at Salisbury.