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As high school baseball coaches groom their fields for the start of the season this week, a handful of basketball coaches in the Johnstonian News readership area begin to sharpen their teams in hopes for a run to glory.
Four area basketball teams have made the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs and here’s a look at their first-round and potential matchups.
The 1-A Carolina Conference-champion Bulldogs are 22-2 and did not lose a conference game as they received the 1-A East No. 7 seed and will host No. 26 Falls Lake Academy (16-14) in the first round.
The Firebirds are no stranger to Johnston County as they were at the Johnstonian News Holiday Invitational at North Johnston after Christmas. They lost to the Panthers in the championship game, 70-63. Falls Lake is post-centric but has a dynamic scorer in Colson Teal, who can fill it up from the outside and midrange. However, I expect the Bulldogs to win easily as their speed and size should dominate.
The big problem for Princeton will be in the second round against No. 10 John A. Holmes (21-4) of Edenton. The Aces have plenty of athletes and three of their losses came to Albemarle Conference foe and 1-A East No. 1 seed Washington County.
The Bulldogs are the most talented team in the area and have all the pieces necessary to win a championship. They can win shootouts or half-court duals, but will the weak competition of the 1-A Carolina Conference prove to be poor preparation for the Bulldogs? That’s a question that even head coach David Cobb has pondered, but when Princeton is clicking and playing together, it’s beautiful basketball to watch.
The Lady Bulldogs (17-6) were not expected to be here before the season started, but they won the 1-A Carolina Conference while only losing one game to earn the 1-A East No. 7 seed and draw No. 26 East Columbus (11-14) in the first round.
The young Lady Bulldogs that have just one senior in Takiria Cummings, who is very dangerous with her size and shooting touch. The key is sophomore point guard Meredith Wooten. As she goes, so does the Lady Bulldogs. Late in the season Wooten really found her game as a slashing, hard-nosed defender.
NEUSE CHARTER GIRLS
The Lady Cougars (14-9) have won eight of their last 10 contests and finished third in the 1-A Carolina Conference to get the No. 24 seed and a visit to No. 9 Riverside Martin (19-7) in the first round.
The Lady Knights keep athletes in Williamston, but Neuse Charter has multiple shooters and ball handlers that make them dangerous. Lady Cougars senior Kayla Ham is about 40 points shy of 1,000 points for her career and her teammates would like to help her get the milestone, which would mean she needs about two games above her 15.5 points per game average to get it.
NORTH JOHNSTON GIRLS
The Lady Panthers (14-10) narrowly made it into the playoffs as the 2-A East’s 30th seed after finishing fourth in the tough Eastern Plains Conference. North Johnston’s prize for reaching the postseason is a trip to No. 3 Kinston (21-5), the Eastern Carolina Conference champion.
At my previous stop in Kinston, I saw the Lady Vikings fall victim to one of the greatest performances in NCHSAA playoff history by EPC foe North Pitt’s Nyjanique Langley, who had 41 points in the 2-A East Regional final last season.
The Lady Vikings returned most of the players from that team and are hungry to win the state championship. They are deep, they shoot the ball well and head coach Christopher Bradshaw preaches defense. If the Lady Panthers of head coach Jay Poole want to pull off the big upset, they will need to keep the turnovers low and have an excellent shooting night or rebound the ball well offensively to get easy buckets.