Western Regional 1A Final: North Rowan boys 92, Winston-Salem Prep 85, 2 OTs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 5, 2011

By Ronnie Gallagher
GREENSBORO — If it’s March, Andrew Mitchell must be going to Raleigh to coach in a state championship basketball game.
He’ll be making his third straight trip to the Big Dance after his North Rowan boys defeated Winston-Salem Prep on Saturday 92-85 in two overtimes to win the 1A Western Regional held in UNC-Greensboro’s Fleming Gym.
The first two came with the Salisbury girls, who will also be going to their third straight title game. But it was easy to tell Saturday’s win was a special moment for Mitchell, a 1984 North Rowan graduate.
“There’s no way in the world I would have left Salisbury knowing we could possibly three-peat if I didn’t feel like these guys could get us here,” he said. “It takes more than just a coach to get you here. You need a team of great players.”
And North (26-5) needed each and every Cav to pull out the pulsating victory. Six Cavaliers finished in double figures, led by sophomore T.J. Bates, who seemed to always be in the right spot at the right time. The sophomore rightfully earned the MVP award.
Bates finished with 22 points, but had help from brother Javon Hargrave’s 19.
“My brother stepped up tonight,” the 6-foot-2 Hargrave nodded. “He said he wanted to win it for me. He made big plays.”
The biggest came at the start of the second overtime, which began with the teams tied 80-80.
Malik Ford was fouled on the first possession and hit 1 of 2 free throws. But Bates hustled for the rebound on the second miss, was fouled, and nailed two more.
After a Winston-Salem Prep free throw, a wild scramble ensued under the North basket with Bates right in the middle of it. The ball ended up in the hands of the 6-7 Ford, who completed a 3-point play for an 86-81 lead with 2:53 left.
“That was big,” Ford said. “It let us breathe a little bit.”
Mitchell felt confident, too.
“To have that cushion was big,” he said. “We felt all we had to do was make free throws and we’d be OK.”
Ahead 88-85, North brought the ball upcourt with 1:33 left. Sam Starks, Jordan Kimber and Bates played keep-away for a solid minute before Prep fouled.
“I was a little surprised,” Mitchell said. “I thought they’d foul sooner.”
When the Phoenix did hack at 36.2, Starks swished two for a five-point lead. Freshman Michael Bowman put the capper on the win with two with under 10 ticks left.
For the game, North was a clutch 29 of 41 from the stripe.
“The bottom line is, they made the right plays down the stretch,” Prep coach Andre Gould said. “We got careless with the basketball. Our role players decided to step out of their roles.
“And we go home. They go on.”
The resilient Cavs go on because they never wavered when Prep (24-10) threatened to blow it open. Jerran Foster hit three quick threes and when 6-6 Greg McClinton scored, the Phoenix led 26-16.
But North outscored Prep 17-8 the rest of the half. Pierre Givens and Kimber drilled threes and Bates scored five to make it 34-33.
Down 57-48 going into the fourth, North made a statement run. Hargrave bulled inside for a 3-point play. Kimber fed freshman Michael Connor and then drove for two for a 57-55 deficit. It remained close the rest of regulation.
“I think it was all heart,” Mitchell said. “I heard Hargrave screaming on the bench, ‘If we lose, that’s it!’ He made sure he got that across to everybody. We didn’t want this to be our last game.”
The big play of the fourth quarter was when Bates found Starks in the corner for a 3 and a 69-68 lead.
At 71-all, Bates missed a shot with 17 seconds left, but Ford blocked a Prep shot at the buzzer, forcing the first overtime.
Another Starks 3 gave North a 78-76 lead but Foster’s banked three made it 80-80, leaving an exasperated packed house reeling and rocking.
That’s when Bates made the big plays to ensure big brother Javon would play again.
“No way was I letting my brother go home without a regional championship,” Bates said.
And no way was Mitchell going home without his annual trek to Raleigh’s Reynolds Coliseum.
“It’s familiar to me,” a sweaty, but always dapper, Mitchell smiled. “We’ll have to find a way to make the guys comfortable.”

NOTES: North will face Pender County for the 1A title. … Also in double figures for North were Ford with 12, Kimber 11 and Starks and Givens with 10 each. … Hargrave and Givens joined Bates on all-tournament. … Ford blocked three shots. … Amani Bates made a big steal in the second overtime.
WINSTON-SALEM PREP (85)— McClinton 25, Foster 22, Bishop 17, Valentine 8, Hughes 6, Fenton 4, Simmons 2, Trent 1.
NORTH ROWAN (92) — T.J. Bates 22, Hargrave 19, Ford 12, Kimber 11, Starks 10, Givens 10, Connor 4, Bowman 4, A. Bates, Chambers.
WS Prep 19 15 23 14 9 5 — 85
N. Rowan 14 19 15 23 9 12 — 92