High school basketball: Strong Rowan girls teams ready for the next one

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 1, 2022

By Mike London

SALISBURY — North Rowan’s girls basketball team ran into a record-breaking shooter and ended a strong season on Saturday.

North was 20-9 and made the third round of the 1A state playoffs.

North was 0-7 against Salisbury, Carson and West Rowan, which means the Cavaliers were 20-2 against everyone else.

West Rowan’s girls went 17-7 with a two-point road loss in the second round of the 3A playoffs.

West went 0-4 against Salisbury and Carson, which means the Falcons, who beat North Rowan 62-56 in a sizzling game between two young teams in their only meeting, were 17-3 against everyone else.

Those numbers give you an idea of how good, relative to the competition, Rowan County girls basketball has been this season.

It’s a season that continues for Carson (25-3) and Salisbury (25-1) tonight. Both tip at home at 6 p.m.

Carson has won 16 in a row. Salisbury has won 24 straight since an early loss to 4A Apex Friendship.

Dedicated coaching staffs, good players, supportive administrations and excited fan bases. Both teams have that. That’s a combination that’s never easy to beat.

As far as the Hornets, success is no shock.

That’s a stacked roster they bring to the floor, a physically strong and deep 2A team that can embarrass opponents when everyone is healthy and everything is clicking.

They made the regional final two years ago when their current players were kids. They probably would have won the state title last season if they’d been healthy. They lost a down-to-the-end game to Shelby in the second round of last season’s random-draw playoffs — with one key player out and two more hobbled. Shelby rolled on to the state title after surviving that trip to Salisbury.

Salisbury’s defensive ferocity chewed up and spit out a pretty decent Forest Hills team on Saturday in the third round. It was over after six minutes when it was 13-0.

The mission for the Hornets was clear from the first day of practice — a state title. This is one of those unfinished-business missions.

As far as Carson, this season has been a major surprise.

The hope back in November was to have a winning season with a roster dramatically depleted from that undefeated state championship team of 2021.

No one in his or her right mind dreamed that the Cougars, who have stitched together an intense, defensive-minded team around returners Mary Spry and Hannah Isley, could still be playing in March.

Carson lost 56-40 to Salisbury early this season when the Cougars were still trying to fit the new pieces of the puzzle together.

Carson scares no one getting off the bus, scares no one in warmups and scares no one after the ball is tipped. The Cougars struggled against Pisgah in Round 2, The Cougars struggled some more against Ashbrook in Round 3. But they made free throws. They defended. They rebounded.

All they do is win and win and win. They find a way. They’re still playing.

We’re far along in the playoffs now. This is the regional level, although it may not feel like it.

The Rowan basketball teams that got this far back in the day traveled to Hickory to play regional games at neutral sites. They played memorable games at venues such as Lenoir-Rhyne and Catawba Valley Community College.

After the Hickory years, teams started heading up to Winston-Salem and then Greensboro to play the regional games.

Now regional semifinals are played on someone’s home court. That’s fine with Salisbury and Carson.

The other half of the 3A West draw isn’t what was anticipated. No. 19 seed Enka, a familiar foe for Carson, is still moving forward. It will be Enka vs. No. 7 seed Parkwood on Tuesday.

No. 2 seed North Buncombe and No. 3 seed Freedom have gone home.

But no one is looking ahead. First things first.

Seeded No. 2 in 2A West, Salisbury actually began this season playing North Surry in a tournament in High Point and won 35-28. Kyla Bryant couldn’t shoot free throws then because of a wrist injury and Haley Dalton missed the game with a concussion. Still, it was a close one and the Hornets will have to be ready for the Greyhounds (19-5).

North Surry posted an impressive victory in the third round, knocking off No. 3 seed Newton-Conover on the road behind 20 points by senior guard Callie Allen. North Surry is young and not overly big. Other than Allen, the key players are sophomores — guard Sadie Badgett, forward Josie Tompkins and forward Khloe Bennett.

Salisbury will start seniors Rachel McCullough and Jaleiah Gibson and juniors Bryant, Jamecia Huntley and Mary Morgan. MaKayla Noble is the most likely reserve to make an impact, but others are capable of changing the game with a pass, a blocked shot or a key rebound.

Salisbury’s boys lost to North Surry in Mount Airy on Saturday, so the girls wouldn’t mind avenging that defeat.

Carson’s opponent, North Davidson (24-2), isn’t far from being undefeated after moving up this school year from 2A to 3A. The Black Knights lost 68-67 to a Tennessee team in a Christmas tournament. The other loss was 65-63 to rival Oak Grove in conference play.

The driving force for North Davidson is skilled guard Emily Hege, a Wingate recruit. She’s scored more than 2,000 points in her career and has put more than 700  in the scorebook as a senior. Hege averages an eye-popping 28 points per game.

Lettie Michael, 5-foot-10, is a solid player and is normally the No. 2 scorer.

North Davidson also can get double-digit points on a given might from Maddy Altiers, Rebekah Minton, Amiyah Mitchell or Kyndall Moore.

Altiers shined in the third round as North Davidson whipped East Lincoln — that’s the team that eliminated West Rowan — 64-44.

North Davidson has a higher-powered offensive team than Carson, so Carson probably has to keep it under 60. Carson’s 2-3 zone tends to slow teams down and forces them to shoot from long range. North Davidson has good shooters, though.

Northwest Cabarrus, No. 3 finisher in Carson’s South Piedmont Conference, had North Davidson on the ropes in the second round. Hege scored 31 and made the plays to pull out a wild 77-74 win and send the Trojans home.

Carson has seven seniors, including all five starters.

Carson will rely on the scoring of Catawba signee Spry, a 6-footer who leads them in just about every statistical category you can think of, as well as streaky Hannah Isley, who might score 25 (as she did in the second round) or seven (as she did in the third round).

Makayla Johnson is a strong rebounder and makes free throws. Aliayah White provides quickness and shooting. Camden Corley makes floaters and free throws and shares ball-handling responsibilities with Spry and Isley. Riley Isley, a tough rebounder and Hannah’s twin sister, is the most likely reserve to impact the game.