Gallagher column: Rowan County wins in bunches
Roaming the county getting ready for the state championship games …
Have you noticed that Rowan County seems to always win in bunches? On Saturday, it could happen again.
At noon in North Carolina’s Dean E. Smith Center, Salisbury’s girls (26-1) will face East Bladen (30-1) for the 2A state championship in a rematch of last year’s finalists.
At 2:30, North Rowan’s boys (26-5) will meet Pender County (24-4) for the 1A championship at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
If both win, it will be two state crowns for the county in each of the two major sports. In football, West Rowan won its third straight while Salisbury won its first.
A Salisbury triumph would match Scott Young’s West football team with three straight titles.
If both win, it would bring the number of state titles to five for Rowan County this school year. Chris Myers’ Salisbury girls tennis team won its third straight back in the fall. Last year, the county produced six state championships in football, basketball, baseball, tennis and two in track.
Fans who were around 25 years ago can tell you Rowan County was winning in bunches back then, too.
In 1986, North Rowan beat Ayden-Grifton 74-69 as Antoine Sifford scored 25 and Jimmy Kesler added 20. The MVP was 6-foot-11 Ralph Kitley, who was Wake Forest-bound. He had 17 points and 14 rebounds.
The Cavs took the lead for good with six minutes left and held off the Chargers to finish 29-2.
The very next year, Rowan County won again as Salisbury’s boys (30-2) beat Farmville Central 63-45 behind Fred Campbell and Bryan Withers.
When Jordan Kimber enters the game Saturday for North Rowan, he’s sure to dazzle the fans at some point with an electrifying pass or by burying a long three.
The fans will cheer without knowing what excruciating pain Kimber is in. The junior guard has suffered from injuries to his legs and shins.
“He’s been in so much pain with his legs,” said North Rowan coach Andrew Mitchell. “He really has 65-to-70-year-old legs in a 16-17-year-old body. Doctors have actually told him that. The things he’s doing right now is a testament to him.”
Kimber has missed games that North was favored to win handily, but he has always shown up for the big ones, like the 92-85 double-overtime win against Winston-Salem Prep in the Western Regional final last week. He had several assists and two crucial buckets.
“We appreciate him so much as coaches and players,” Mitchell said. “We’ll tell Jordan to sit down at practice but he goes 100 percent like he’s healthy.”
Kimber started his career at West Rowan with his brother, Kaleb, and Mitchell noticed the talent even then.
“You knew he’d be in a state championship game at some point,” Mitchell said.
Free-throw shooting isn’t supposed to be one of North’s strengths, but against Winston-Salem Prep, the Cavs were 29 of 41.
“We’ve been a terrible free-throw shooting team,” Mitchell said. “We used to shoot free throws every day — a lot of free throws. It was miss, miss, miss.”
So North stopped focusing on it.
“We haven’t even practiced free throws in two weeks,” Mitchell said. “But some of our best shooting games recently have come from the foul line.”
Both girls teams in the 2A title game are excited about playing in the Smith Center.
“A lot of our girls are Carolina fans,” said Salisbury coach Chris McNeil. “So to get to play in the Smith Center and play that team again is a special situation. We just told them, ‘Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the moment.’ ”
East Bladen coach Patty Evers figured after last year’s loss, these two teams were destined to make the finals again. And she was so excited about the venue, she took her team to North Carolina camp during the summer.
“I told them to walk out to the middle of the floor and sit there until I told them to get up,” Evers smiled. “I’m more excited about this one. I’ve been a Carolina fan all my life. I went to Carolina camp myself.”
The East has been designated the home team so East Bladen (30-1) will wear white.
“I’m tickled to death to be the home team and get to sit on that bench,” Evers said.
East Bladen has been impressive over the past five years. This will be their fourth trip to the final. Unfortunately, the Eagles have lost to Bishop McGuinness twice and Salisbury 49-37 last year.
Salisbury has made the most of its visits. The Hornets have won three titles, the first in 2004 with an undefeated team. Salisbury’s only loss came in 2006 in overtime, 56-55, to Farmville Central.
North has already proven its one of the best teams around, beating two of the last three state champs. Monroe won the 1A title last season. Winston-Salem Prep won the title in 2008.
Rowan County still holds one NCHSAA record. In 1997, a freshman named Scooter Sherrill set a Dean Smith Center record with 25 second-half points for Mike Gurley’s West Rowan Falcons in a 79-67 win over Wallace-Rose Hill.
Had Pender’s girls made the state title game, it would have been tough on the coach to make the game. That’s because Patriots’ boys coach Gary Battle is also the girls coach.
“I’m going to be there for the girls game anyway,” Battle said when asked how he can manage double duty. “I just like basketball.”
NOTES: The schools have pre-sale tickets through today for $9. Tickets at the door are $10. … Parking is free in the deck across from Reynolds Coliseum for North fans. Salisbury fans must pay $5 at the Smith Center. … Time-Warner Cable will broadcast all eight title games live. … All venues are smoke free. … There will be no body paint allowed. … When the season began, there were 512 girls and boys teams. Now, there’s 16.