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Gallagher column: Salisbury set for matchup of state powers

Roaming the county getting ready for tonight …
Salisbury girls basketball coach Andrew Mitchell noted earlier in the week that playing in front of such big crowds at the Sam Moir Christmas Classic would only help once the playoffs get here.
That kind of atmosphere will greet the Hornets tonight when East Davidson comes rolling into Salisbury. That’s defending 2A state champion East Davidson. That’s No. 1-ranked East Davidson.
Salisbury is currently No. 2, right behind the Golden Eagles, in the NCPreps.com media poll. Both teams are 11-0. And both are coming off Christmas tournament championships.
Athletic Director Joe Pinyan understands the magnitude of the event. He’s opening the doors at 5:15 p.m. for the 6 p.m. start to avoid a mad rush at the door right at game time.
Mitchell knows what his team is up against. He scouted Terry Allmon’s club recently and said he left when East was up 43-10. He’s not worried about his girls understanding what they have to do to win.
“I’m not going to have to say a whole lot,” Mitchell said Thursday afternoon.
All the first-year Hornets coach has to do is watch tapes of last year’s four meetings to see the intensity of this rivalry. Each team won on its home court during the regular season. Salisbury won the conference tournament. East won the Western Regional for the right to play in the state title game.
East Davidson returns all of its starters, including 6-foot senior Anna Freeman and 5-foot-11 Elizabeth Merritt. Merritt is coming to Catawba. Another familiar name is Alyssa Cutshaw, a four-year starter. She’s the daughter of former North Rowan coach Avery Cutshaw.
Allmon knows Salisbury has practically everyone back as well. He told reporters in the preseason that the road to the title goes through Salisbury, which is quite a compliment considering East has the state championship hardware.
Mitchell, who always seems composed, laughed, saying, “You’re trying to put the pressure on me.” But it’s easy to tell he is enjoying the experience of being a high school coach at Salisbury with one of the biggest games in the state being played at his place.
“I love it,” he said. “We don’t have pressure. They’re No. 1. They have the pressure. We’re trying to get to No. 1.”
And being No. 1 means great expectations.
“I know if we don’t win the state, everything we do now won’t mean much to a lot of people,” Mitchell said.
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One of the more entertaining moments of Salisbury’s 75-56 Moir championship win against East Rowan came late, after the game had been decided. Jessica Heilig, a 6-0 sophomore, blocked a shot and pounded her chest.
The Hornet starters, watching from the bench, were cheering wildly. Mitchell put his hand over his mouth, trying to muffle a laugh.
“She’s a special player,” Mitchell said. “The funny thing is, that’s the type of person she is, even in practice. She likes to have fun.”
It also shows what’s coming in the future, even after he loses six seniors.
“We can be good for three, four, five years,” Mitchell said.
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Oh yeah, the Salisbury boys are pretty good, too. The Hornets (11-1) made it a sweep of Moir titles and are expected to roll over East Davidson (2-7).
Salisbury is one of four schools with home doubleheaders tonight. In NPC action, Statesville visits West, Mooresville comes to East and West Iredell plays at South. Carson’s boys travel to Lake Norman (10-0) and North Rowan heads to Tyro to meet West Davidson.
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With conference play heating up, Rowan County teams are right where they usually are: at or near the top of the standings.
In the CCC, four boys teams are unbeaten. North Rowan is one of them. Don’t let the 4-6 overall record fool you. The Cavs are a rebounding machine full of tall, strong athletes.
“We just need to do a better job hitting our free throws,” coach Kelly Everhart said after watching a 12-for-26 effort in a Moir consolation win against East Rowan.
West Rowan joins Lake Norman as the only unbeaten boys teams in NPC play. East’s girls are in second at 5-1, with their only loss coming to 6-0 Statesville.
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On the air tonight …
The dynamic duo of Howard Platt and The Coach, Bob Parker, are caught up in the fever pitch at Salisbury. They’re broadcasting both games on WSTP 1490 AM.
Go enjoy some basketball tonight, folks. And be nice.
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Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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