Prep Basketball: Salisbury meets familiar foe in West Regional final today
By Mike London
Salisbury’s girls play East Davidson today at 2 p.m. at UNC Greensboro in the 2A Western Regional final.
The CCC rivals, separated by 26 miles of I-85, are opposites in every way except that both are great at destroying opposing basketball teams.
They’ll meet for the fourth time this season.
“It’s one of those things that you dread, but it was also one of those things we knew was going to happen,” said East Davidson coach Terry Allmon, who managed a small chuckle. “Kind of inevitable. No one was going to beat Salisbury.”
East Davidson seniors Anna Freeman and Alyssa Cutshaw elevated the Golden Eagles to regional-power status back when they were freshmen. This will be the 13th time they’ve clashed with a strong Salisbury senior class headlined by multi-talented Shi-Heria Shipp and relentless hustler De’Rya Wylie.
Salisbury won all three meetings with East Davidson in 2005-06. The programs split two meetings in 2006-07 and four last season.
East Davidson has won all three this season, so now it’s 6-6. Today’s game will provide a permanent tiebreaker.
“We want it bad,” Salisbury sophomore Ashia Holmes said. “It’s something I really want to do. For our seniors, I want to help them get a ring before they leave.”
East Davidson (31-0) has won 36 straight since it lost in double overtime to Salisbury in the 2008 CCC tournament championship game.
Besides 52-46, 52-46 and 45-43 victories against Salisbury this season, the winning streak includes a 51-37 blitz of the Hornets in the 2008 Western Regional final and a 2A state-championship victory against Graham.
Salisbury (27-3) is 55-5 the last two seasons. The Hornets don’t need to be reminded which girls are responsible for all five losses.
Need a hint? They wear black and gold.
“If I knew the secret of beating a team as good as Salisbury, believe me, I’d write a book and everyone would read it,” Allmon said. “But there is no secret. We’ve just been fortunate to make that big play or that big shot at the right time. I’m blessed with a veteran team, girls who have played in lots of big games. And when you’ve done that, you get a certain level of confidence. You’re not afraid to take that big shot.”
East Davidson trailed by three late at Salisbury this year. Cutshaw hit a game-tying, game-changing 3. Elizabeth Merritt, a Catawba signee, hit a go-ahead layup off a missed free throw.
Salisbury led by seven points in the CCC tournament. Freeman and Cutshaw hit back-to-back 3s to lift the Eagles back into it.
Allmon points at last year’s state championship game as an indicator of what his team is all about. Down six late against Graham, Stacy Hicks, the least heralded of Allmon’s starting five, hit a 3. Then Freeman made a three-point play to tie.
With 18 seconds left, young point guard Candace Fox went to the line with East Davidson clinging to a two-point lead.
“Nothing but the bottom of the net,” Allmon said.
Still, Salisbury seems to be getting closer. New coach Andrew Mitchell, who spent a long time in the college game, is adjusting to shot-clockless basketball.
Mitchell indicated he might take a page from Ledford coach John Ralls’ book. Ledford played tough against Salisbury in a sectional final after being crushed by the Hornets twice in the regular season.
“Coach Ralls said they didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for us and they ended up playing better than they ever have,” Mitchell said. “I think we’re probably going to take that same approach against East Davidson this time. We’re not going to dwell on what East Davidson’s capable of. We just need to get prepared ourselves and come out and play as hard as we can.”
His team has played hard and unselfishly, and the Hornets have highlight-film athletes.
Allmon said Wylie, who would gladly wrestle a grizzly bear for a rebound, would be his favorite player ó if he didn’t have to coach against her.
Allmon points at Salisbury’s Holmes twins, Ashia and Ayanna, as the biggest difference between the current Salisbury team and last season’s. Both are more confident and more skilled.
The Hornets are so quick and so aggressive they are sure to take more shots than East Davidson. But they need to shoot a better percentage than they have in previous meetings.
Salisbury enjoyed a 24-14 turnover advantage and a 41-24 rebounding advantage when it battered Mitchell in one of Wednesday’s semifinals. The Hornets took 62 shots to Mitchell’s 37, and Wylie, Shipp and Ashia Holmes put the ball in the hole on a regular basis.
That same night, East Davidson smothered Smoky Mountain. People headed for nachos after the first quarter. It was 18-1 at that point.
“What last Wednesday showed is that Salisbury and East Davidson are no doubt the best two teams in the West,” Allmon said. “We have the ultimate respect for Salisbury on our end.”
It’s mutual. As much as every Hornet burns to beat East Davidson, everyone understands by now how good the Golden Eagles are.
East Davidson isn’t some amazingly lucky team that gets all the calls. It’s simply a tall, smart team that can handle, pass, shoot, rebound and defend. East Davidson is beatable, but Salisbury has to play lights out to do it.
As huge as today’s game is, Allmon will keep perspective, win or lose. As badly as he wants his seniors to go out with another state title and a perfect record, he’s also dealing with what he calmly calls “my cancer situation.”
Allmon will be operated on for prostate cancer on March 25. The disease was diagnosed early, and the prognosis is very positive. He informed his players in January.
He said there’s been an outpouring of support from everywhere ó including Salisbury.
“So many Salisbury people have come up to me and told me they’re thinking about me, praying for me, and it’s meant an awful lot,” Allmon said. “Coach Mitchell ó he left me a phone message that brought tears to my eyes.”
Allmon said his team was down briefly, but it moved past the initial shock and fear.
“At first, I think they took it pretty hard,” he said. “We talked about it, cried about it. But after a while, we went on, and as serious as it is, now the girls can joke. One of the players told me the other day she really couldn’t wait to see me in a pink hospital gown.”
As a coach and person Allmon is nothing but the bottom of the net.
It will be great if the Hornets get it done today. If they don’t, it won’t be hard at all to cheer for Allmon next week.
Bret Strelow contributed to this story.