Western Regional Final: North boys, Salisbury girls go for titles today

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 5, 2011

By Mike London
GREENSBORO — It’s hard to say who was more impressive in the 1A boys Western Regional semifinals on Tuesday.
North Rowan destroyed Murphy 76-55 with a dazzling display of athleticism and nine 3-pointers, while Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy chewed up Cherryville 89-67 with swarming defense in a game that was supposed to be a tossup.
North (25-5) and Winston-Salem Prep (24-9) collide today at noon at UNC Greensboro’s Fleming Gym to decide the Western Regional championship and a berth in the state-title contest in Raleigh against Pender or Red Springs.
At 4 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum’s Special Events Center, the Salisbury girls (25-1) will continue their goal of winning their third straight state championship when Chris McNeil’s Hornets take on the No. 1 seed from the Catawba Valley Conference, Newton-Conover (25-3).

A balanced North team, under first-year coach and former Cavalier Andrew Mitchell, has put up the third-highest win total in school history. Only the 1986 state champs (29-2) and the 2001 team that won its first 27 games before losing in a regional final in Hickory, won more often than Mitchell’s exciting group.
North got double-figure scoring from seniors Sam Starks and Javon Hargrave, junior Pierre Givens and 6-foot-7 sophomore Malik Ford to flatten Murphy.
Starks and Givens shot the ball extremely well against Murphy, and when the Cavs are making outside shots, on top of all their other assets, they’re hard to beat.
North lost overtime games in December to West Rowan and Salisbury but learned valuable lessons. The Cavaliers currently have a nine-game winning streak.
Winston-Salem Prep is a magnet school that attracts some of the top students in Forsyth County. It opened in 2004 and has quickly become a force in 1A basketball.
The Phoenix won the 2008 state championship behind towering Reggie Johnson, who went on to Miami, and they were 25-3 last season, finally bowing out against eventual champion Monroe.
Despite nine losses, mostly to 3A and 4A schools, Winston-Salem Prep has an impressive roster with a lot of size.
Greg McClinton, a long, athletic, 6-6 sophomore wing player is a Division I prospect and averages 18.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Jerron Foster, a 5-6 fireball, is the engine for the team. He poured in 26 points against Cherryville, matching the output of Cherryville star Terry Whisnant, who is headed to Florida State.
This should be an even game. North had three scraps this season with YVC rival Albemarle, winning two, and W-S Prep prevailed in a tight game with Albemarle in the sectionals.

Winners of 25 straight since an opening loss to 4A Butler, the Salisbury girls face a rematch with Newton-Conover today at 4 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center.
Salisbury defeated the Red Devils 43-32 in the regional final last season, with Bubbles Phifer and Olivia Rankin combining for 27 points.
Phifer is the key ingredient missing from last season’s squad, but veterans Rankin, Ashia and Ayanna Holmes and Jessica Heilig are still on board for first-year coach McNeil.
The Hornets got a career-high 21 points from freshman Brielle Blaire in a 61-44 win against Bandys, the runner-up team in Newton-Conover’s conference on Thursday and also benefited from the return of Doreen Richardson, who missed seven games with a foot injury.
Newton-Conover beat CCC club Thomasville 58-37 to advance to the regional final.
Newton-Conover is a well-balanced team, scoring nearly 60 points per game and with four girls averaging double figures.
Shynese Whitener (13.7 points per game) is the leading scorer for the Red Devils.
Syn-quasia Tipps scored 14 against Thomasville, while Kadesha Gibbs had 13. Tiana Littlejohn is the other starter averaging double digits.
Salisbury, which will enjoy a height advantage against the Red Devils, is playing in its ninth consecutive Western Regional and is seeking its third straight 2A championship.
Besides winning a 2010 matchup with N-C, the Hornets beat the Red Devils in a regional matchup in 2003.
If Salisbury wins today, it may be looking at a state-championship game rematch with East Bladen, which plays Graham today for the Eastern crown. That game would be played in Chapel Hill.