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Prep Basketball: Salisbury girls go for third straight title

By Ronnie Gallagher
rgallagher@salisburypost.com
CHAPEL HILL — East Bladen’s Patty Evers said she has been watching film of Salisbury’s powerhouse basketball team as early as 5 a.m.
In her head, she already has her matchups down heading into today’s noon contest against the Hornets that will decide the 2A state championship in the Dean E. Smith Center:
• Courtney (C.J.) Melvin, the 6-foot-2 star of East Bladen’s team vs. Salisbury’s 6-1 Olivia Rankin.
• Veteran Jazmine Kemp vs. Salisbury’s athletic leaper Jessica Heilig.
• “And my guards match up with the twins (Ashia and Ayanna Holmes),” Evers said.
They are all key figures Evers remembers from last year when Salisbury defeated East Bladen 49-37 in the 2A final.
Then, there is 6-3 Brielle Blaire, a freshman who has caught Evers’ eye.
“The freshman — we may have to do some rearranging with her,” Evers said.
Evers may have been up early watching tape but she admits she has thought about Salisbury since last season.
“If I said I hadn’t, I’d be lying,” she said. “But you can’t go in thinking, ‘Oh no, we lost last year.’ You can’t have that mindset. You’ve got to go in thinking, ‘We’re going to win this thing.’ ”
Winning the whole thing is about only thing the Eagles haven’t done. Over the past five years, no team other than Salisbury has been more dominant. This is East Bladen’s fourth title appearance in five years. It lost to Bishop McGuinness twice and to the Hornets.
But this year is different. East Bladen has everyone back, led by the monstrous Melvin, who has scored 2,300 career points. In the regional final, the East Carolina signee produced 27 points and 18 rebounds.
“She has been working out preparing for ECU,” said Evers, who picked up her 300th win earlier this season. “She’s actually lost weight. It benefits her to get up and down the court.”
Kemp is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds.
“She knows she’s the leader on the floor,” Evers said. “She directs the defense. She seems to step up in the bigger games.”
Janet Hatcher is also dangerous, averaging 5.6 assists.
“We’re more mature this year,” Evers said. “Last year, we were finding our team chemistry. They were waiting on me to tell them instead of going on instinct.”
Just looking at the stats on paper impresses Salisbury coach Chris McNeil.
“They have a wonderful team,” McNeil said. “They’ve done a lot of damage. But we’re not going to let that stop us from what we want to do.”
And that’s dominate underneath with four Division I signees.
“No. 1, you’ve got rebound. The end,” Evers said. “They’re just big.”
If Salisbury controls the inside and plays its usual suffocating defense, a third straight title could be in the books.
“Hopefully, we’ll come home with a state championship,” McNeil said.
Evers hopes this is finally the year for her Eagles.
“You can’t think about other state championship games,” she said. “We believe we have a chance.”
Salisbury loves the fact that East Bladen is back.
“The girls were excited,” McNeil said about learning of their foe. “It wasn’t a cocky excitement. They love a challenge.”

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