By Lee Noles
INDIAN TRAIL – When the regular season ended earlier this month, the Sun Valley High girls’ basketball team had to face a daunting task if they wanted to make the state 3A playoffs.
Not only would the Spartans need to win the Southern Carolina Conference tournament to go, they would have to do it by playing three games in five days. The challenge was made even more difficult by the fact some of those wins would need to be against two of the league’s top teams.
Not a problem. After defeating regular-season champion Cuthbertson on the road in the first round, and then rival Weddington in the semis, Sun Valley beat third-seeded Charlotte Catholic, 59-53, for the program’s first tournament title in more than five years.
What made the run even more remarkable was the fact Sun Valley entered the tournament on a nine-game losing streak, contributing to the Spartans being the conference’s lowest seed at 2-12.
“It was a crazy week. We went in every game just focused on us and what we needed to do,” said Sun Valley coach Jeremy Waldrup. “We had shown spurts in games, and we have been competitive … But we had just let it slip, and not execute. But once we got to the tournament, we realized what we had to do.”
Amanda Cherry, a senior, averaged 26.6 points during the tournament for the Spartans. Cherry scored 25 during the three-point win in the opening round against Cuthbertson. She followed with 37 points against the Warriors before finishing with 21 points in the championship game.
“She was able to play off the ball and did a lot of things for us,” said Waldrup of Cherry, who is Sun Valley’s all-time leading scorer.
This was more than a one-person show. The Spartans, who are 11-15 overall, had several players increase their scoring average during the tournament.
The biggest jump came from junior Bayley Dawson, who went from averaging 7.6 points during the season to 15.3 in the tournament. Sierra Smith, a junior, increased her average from 2.6 per game to 7.3 for the tournament. Rebecca Murray, a senior, went from 6.4 to 9.6 points.
“It was huge, because most of the season we had one person hit one game and then another in another,” Waldrup said. “Most teams would try to shut down Amanda, and then that opened (teammates) and then Amanda got open, and it got our team going. So, it was big.”
Forest Hills remain dominant
Forest Hills rolled through the Rocky River Conference during the regular season, and not much changed once the Yellow Jackets got to the league tournament. Forest Hills (24-2) claimed their second conference tournament title in three years by winning two games by an average of 35.5 points.
After dispatching Anson, 91-44, in the semifinals, the Jackets defeated Mount Pleasant, 80-56, for the championship.
“I thought our kids did a great job of remaining focused throughout the year,” Forest Hills coach Matt Sides said. “I think it’s a testament to the work effort they put in the offseason, and what they put in during the season. … They have great chemistry.”
The Jackets ran away with the championship in the second quarter by expanding a nine-point first quarter lead to 21 at halftime on a 17-5 run.
Four players for Forest Hills scored in double figures with Trey Belin finishing with a team-high 19 points. Jaleel McLaughlin barely missed a triple-double with 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Nas Tyson, who was named the league’s player of the year, scored 11 points in the championship game. Tyson also had 22 points in the win against Anson.
The Jackets, who are ranked fifth in the state 2A poll, according to www.maxpreps.com, dominated the conference this season, going undefeated for the second time in three years and winning their games by an average of 33.8 points.
Forest Hills entered the state playoffs, which started Feb. 20, on an 11-game winning streak.
Union Academy girls, Charlotte Catholic boys keep winning
After not having a winning season over the last nine years, Union Academy girls’ basketball team can call themselves conference champions. The Cardinals captured their first tournament title by winning the PAC-7 with a 71-28 win over Community School of Davidson.
The Cardinals, who are ranked fourth in the 1A state poll, finished the regular season on a 12-game winning streak and went undefeated in the conference at 13-0.
The Union Academy boys also captured their conference title after the Cardinals won three games in the tournament. After dispatching Queen’s Grant by 20 points in the opening round, Union Academy had a tougher time in the semifinals, slipping past Pine Lake Preparatory, 67-59. Union Academy then beat Community School of Davidson, 73-63, to capture the Pac-7 title and their eighth straight win.
The Catholic boys is another program which enjoyed an undefeated run through their league. The Cougars capped the perfect conference season (14-0) with a 58-49 win over Marvin Ridge in Southern Carolina Conference tournament.
Catholic, which is ranked sixth in the maxpreps.com 3A polls, has won 15 straight. The Cougars are 23-3 overall as of Feb. 19.