State tournament featured several familiar faces

State tournament featured several  familiar faces
March 07
17:50 2023

The Carolina Athletic Association for Choice Schools (CAA4SC) held their state tournament last week here in Winston-Salem. Winston-Salem Christian (WSC) and Quality Education Academy (QEA) played host for the tournament and needless to say, it was an action-packed week.

Area schools such as WSC and QEA are members of the conference, along with Piedmont Classical of Greensboro. There were two separate brackets due to most schools having a national and regional team.  The Elite Bracket final, which featured the national teams, was a matchup of two evenly matched squads in Piedmont Classical and North Carolina Good Better Best Academy (NCGBBA).

Piedmont came out of the gates with more energy as they were diving on the floor for loose balls and making all of the 50/50 plays. That early energy led to them taking a 24-15 lead after the first period.  

NCGBBA kept things close throughout the first half. They were able to slow the pace of the game enough to keep the lead within striking distance. The Bobcats took a 44-35 lead into the half over the Eagles.

Bobcats coach Justin Wallington says he was confident coming into the game because his team has been battle tested. He also felt the veteran leadership of his guards would help propel them to victory.

“I told them to stay poised and we have veteran guards that are among the best in the state,” said Wallington about what he told his team at halftime. “We wanted to jump on them early because we knew NC Good Better was going to come out hard because they wanted (the win) just as bad as we did.”

After intermission, Good Better Best came out with purpose. Now they were the ones making the extra effort and were able to finally close the gap to four points at 46-42 midway through the quarter. Piedmont quickly answered with a run of their own to push the lead back out to nine after three quarters.

Both teams could feel the state championship within their grasp, which made for an intense fourth quarter. The Eagles got as close as two points at 72-70 with less than two minutes left in the game. Piedmont Classical held on for the victory late with some clutch plays down the stretch.

“We had a motto at the beginning of the year, and we stuck to the game plan, we fought adversity all season, and every time something was thrown in front of us, we handled it and kept it moving,” said Wallington. “We stayed as one unit all season. We were battle tested all season.  

“Even when we got down at the beginning of the year, we came back and we gelled together. Defense was the motto. We worked on no offense for the rest of the way. We stuck to the game plan and that’s why we are state champions right now.”

Julius Harrison was named MVP of the game for his stellar play. Harrison scored 29 points and hit some big shots down the stretch. Coach Wallington had big praise for Harrison and his game. 

“Man, I am going to tell you right now that he is one of the best shooters in the country. Not just in the state but in the country. He has hit over 125 three pointers on the season. He is a true all-around player. He is a 6’5” guard and there is nothing he can’t do. He can facilitate, he can rebound and he’s a big-time player when the lights come on and we call him big game Ju.”

Friday was the semifinal games for the varsity boys and girls teams of the CAA4SC. First up to play were the varsity girls’ teams from WSC against Piedmont Classical. From the opening tip, it was evident that the Bobcats were outmatched. WSC jumped all over them on the defensive end, which translated to easy shots.

The Lions were the bigger of the two teams and used that to their advantage as well. With that size and defensive pressure, WSC led 25-5 after the first period. The Lions didn’t let off the gas pedal either. Piedmont fought hard in the second quarter, but the Lions took a 40-13 lead into the half.

The lead continued to balloon in the second half. Credit has to be given to the Bobcats as they never gave up even when the game was out of reach. The Lions were just too much for the Bobcats and headed into the championship game with a 66-24 victory.

“We just wanted to make sure we attacked and go hard on everything so we could focus on ending the tournament on a good note. Just wanted to make sure we did everything positive that’s going to carry into tomorrow,” said Lions head coach Brandi Segars about the game plan coming into the semifinal game.

Even though the Lions won the game by 40 points, the game was won on the defensive end. Defense is something WSC works on routinely, said Segars.

“Defense is big for me, so we really make sure we lock in defensively,” she said. “You want to be able to stop the opponent so we can get stops and get scores on the other end.”

For Segars, she wanted to make sure her team did not become complacent or lazy even though the game was out of reach. She says keeping them mentally engaged throughout was the goal because they still had one more game to play.

Game two featured the varsity girls’ teams from NCGBBA and QEA. QEA was looking to get back to the state championship game after winning it all last season. To call this a tight game would be an understatement.

Even though QEA took an early lead, Good Better Best always delivered a counter punch to stay in the game. In this game, points came at a premium, which put more emphasis on executing on every possession. NCGBBA took a lead late in the first half at 13-12 that carried into intermission.

QEA coach Melvin Heggie put a fire into his team at halftime and the girls responded to that with their effort coming out of the half.

“In the first half, we missed shots that we usually would make,” said Heggie. “There was a little frustration for us, but confidence isn’t about making shots, confidence comes from the work you put in to get here.  

“I told them that I wasn’t upset that we were missing shots and that we were going to make them if we keep shooting good shots and turn it up on the defensive end and that’s kind of what it was.”

The Lady Pharaoh’s quickly took the lead back early in the third quarter using their defensive pressure. The Lady Eagles continued to keep things close, even with QEA delivering their best punch. QEA gained a little breathing room in the fourth quarter when the momentum finally swung someone’s way. When the dust settled, the Lady Pharaohs were victorious by the score of 39-26.

Heggie credits his defense for his team being able to pull out the win. He felt the close ballgame would be a great learning experience for his players heading into the championship game, especially playing against their cross-town rivals. 

“We owe them, that’s our rival from right up the street. All these girls know each other, and they play AAU together,” said Heggie about the championship game. “It’s going to be a great game, but we owe them. They beat us the last time we played, and my kids are going to come out with a nothing to lose mentality.”

The first boys’ game of the evening featured New Garden Friends School (NGFS) against Wayne Preparatory Academy (WPA). From the tip off, you knew both teams were ready to play. New Garden took the early advantage with some impressive shot-making. Wayne Prep had their moments in the first half as well.

Once the second half began, WPA began having issues with shot-making due to the defense applied by the Bears. It looked as though New Garden was going to run away with things, but the Generals quickly settled down and got back into the game. It was only a six-point spread heading into the final frame at 45-39, with New Garden leading.

Wayne Prep made a final push in the final minutes of the game, closing to within one point. New Garden made the plays in the end to win 55-54.

The final game of the night was between the varsity boys from NCGBBA and QEA. This game was a tale of two halves. The Pharaohs and Eagles went back and forth throughout the first half. Even though QEA held the lead, Good Better Best was right there.

The second half is where QEA started to exert their dominance. They went on a run in the third quarter that stretched the lead out to 17 at 43-26 with 4:06 left to play in the frame. The Eagles never gave up and continued to claw back, but QEA had an answer every time they did so. The Pharaohs headed into the championship game with a 74-55 victory.

“We were ready, and you have to understand that we were hard on our boys all year, prepping them for this moment,” said QEA head coach David Bishop. “When we came back to school in August, we got to it. We had our eyes on this prize right here, so you got to understand that’s why our players are playing with such a chip on their shoulder, because they know it’s going to be a fight and we worked hard this season.

“The job is not done, and they know that. Some of the players were not really happy because they know they have one more game. The other team was good, but we played teams from other states and we have seen it all.”

The final day of the tournament was held back at WSC school and where the eventual state championships would be crowned. The girls were first up to play. Longtime rivals WSC and QEA took the floor to see who would be crowned state champs.

Everyone on the floor, the benches and even the crowd could feel the electricity in the building that Saturday afternoon. When these two teams play, you can throw out the records and be certain that it will be a good one.

Both squads came out of the gates with a lot of energy and passion. The Lady Pharaohs had the advantage early with a slim lead in the first quarter. The Lady Lions would not be outdone and quickly answered with a run of their own to take the lead back and even stretch it to double figures at 33-23 at halftime. 

The third is where WSC took control of the game. QEA seemed to be out of sync offensively and didn’t really have a rhythm. The Lady Lions took full advantage of this and continued their onslaught. The lead ballooned all the way to 18 midway through the fourth and by the time QEA got on track it was too little too late. The Lady Lions took home the state championship with a 53-37 victory.

“I am excited for my team because we worked really hard to get to this point and just to see them be able to win and get this dub really means a lot,” said Segars. “I told them to make sure we play all four quarters. The first half went good, but it was more of the ballgame left so we had to make sure we stayed locked in for the third and fourth quarter.”

The boys final between QEA and New Garden was the perfect ending to an exciting few days of games on the boys and girls side. QEA came out hard as Coach Bishop predicted; however, New Garden was ready for them early on. The Bears gave the Pharaohs all they could handle and only trailed by two points at the break. The Pharaohs had previously beaten the Bears three times this season, so New Garden was looking to obtain their first win against QEA when it mattered most.

Coach Bishop previously stated that his team is a second half team as their endurance really shines over their opponents in that moment. Once again, his prediction came true as QEA held a small lead the entire second half and never relented. Each time the Bears made a push, the Pharaohs had an equal or stronger push themselves. QEA hit their free throws down the stretch to push the lead to double figures and secured the state title 58-46.

“We prepped for this moment. This coaching staff that I have, we built this team from the bottom up,” said Bishop. “We got a group of kids that believe in us. They all came from different schools and were undervalued, and they didn’t have to come here but they did.

“I told them to stay focused with their eyes on the prize and we are not going to change anything up. We know what we are good at and we are going to stick to it. We came into the season knowing that if we wanted to win the state championship, we got to lock in on defense because defense wins games and championships.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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