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WEEKLY WATCH: What's on tap in local hoops?

WEEKLY WATCH: What's on tap in local hoops?

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Mark Parker

Mark Parker 

Record Sports Correspondent

Volleyball playoffs and cross country regionals will highlight the week ahead, but this week’s column will focus on key early-season matchups in high school basketball (previews for all three volleyball playoff rounds plus the cross country regionals will publish later this week).

Here is a look at the week ahead:

1) South Caldwell boys at Hickory (Tuesday), vs. Freedom (Friday)

When South Caldwell brought in Danny Anderson from Maiden after the 2018-19 season — a coach who crossed the 700-win threshold for his career in his last year at Maiden — the hope was he would turn the Spartans from doormats to a team that at least would be competitive. South Caldwell went 1-23 during the 2018-19 season and 3-21 the season before that.

In getting my first glimpse of the Anderson-led Spartans at the 2019 Dick’s Sporting Goods Classic, the team progressed into a fundamentally sound group. Prior to that tournament, the Spartans played both cross-county schools Hibriten and West Caldwell — both of which spent time in the top-10 of the 2A polls — to one- and two-possession games.

In thinking through what the Spartans had done in nonconference, I thought the Spartans could create some issues for opposing squads. How true that would soon be.

Facing the top two teams in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference the next week, South Caldwell beat Hickory by 13, then two days later, the Spartans took a road win at eventual state 3A co-champion Freedom. It was a pretty nice week for a squad that won only eight games on the season, though the Spartans were 5-7 in the conference.

With a year of Anderson’s system under their belts, it will be interesting to see how far the Spartans have progressed in a year. In the season opener last week, South Caldwell took out Watauga 53-41 and now it gets the two-step dance against Hickory and Freedom again.

Hickory lost at McDowell last week in Daniel Willis’ coaching debut with the Red Tornadoes. Freedom began defense of its co-championship with a win at St. Stephens. Prior to games against South Caldwell, Freedom and Hickory will play a makeup game tonight.

2) Hickory girls at Freedom (tonight)

I wanted to write something on this matchup for last week’s column, but space limitations got the better of me. With last Friday’s scheduled game postponed until tonight, I get a second chance. My curiosity for this game is to see if the gap between Freedom and the rest of the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference has closed.

Since the 2015-16 season, the Patriots are 67-1 in the conference with a 3A state title and three other final four appearances, including the last two seasons. Freedom replaced six seniors from a year ago including top scorers Blaikley Crooks (Northwestern 3A/4A player of the year) and Jordan Hise, both of whom were tabbed to play in last summer’s North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All-Star Game in Greensboro before it was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

However, programs like Freedom generally don’t rebuild; rather, they reload.

Hickory is trying to get back to the glory days when it ran the West Region, taking crowns in 2014 and 2015. After a 13-12 mark in 2017-18, the Red Tornadoes worked back to second-place finishes the last two years, which included a 21-7 record a season ago, during which they made it to the third round of the state playoffs. Hickory lost three seniors from that team, including 6-foot-5 center Shelby Darden, but they get back two 6-footers in versatile Finley Lefevers and post player Kellin Morin (after the conclusion of the volleyball season).

Both Hickory (at McDowell) and Freedom (at St. Stephens) won in routs in season openers last week; however, both showed sluggishness at times. It’ll be a good early-season look to see whether the gap between one and two is closing, or if Freedom is back to business as usual. Freedom has won 12 straight against Hickory dating back to 2015, all by double digits.

3) Bunker Hill girls at Patton (Tuesday)

At long last, Bunker Hill slayed the dragon that was East Burke, ending the Cavaliers' 60-game winning streak in the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference. After two seasons of second-place finishes, the Bears must feel that a conference championship is an achievable goal. However, Patton is not a team to be ignored.

In the three years of the conference, it is the Panthers who have the second best record in league play, with two finishes tied for second and a third-place slot last year, a game behind Bunker Hill. Patton returns its top three scorers from a year ago, including Reece Fisher, who put in 16.9 points a game, and its top rebounder Zakiah King, who cleared 12.7 boards per game to go with 10.9 points.

Addison Wray continued her stellar career with Bunker Hill by scoring 24 points to start her senior year during the win over East Burke.

The Bears won two of three last season, including a game in the conference tournament semifinal, and four of six the last two years.

Keep in mind that only two teams from the league will receive automatic bids in the state playoffs with just one wild-card spot available for the entire 2A West Region. A win on Tuesday sure would give the Bears or Panthers an edge in that hunt.

4) Patton boys at Hibriten (Thursday)

Three teams from the Northwestern Foothills 2A won 20 or more games a year ago. Two of them will face off in a battle of teams named Panthers.

Hibriten won the regular season conference title, but third-seeded Patton rallied from six down in the final minute to force overtime, then five down in the final minute to win an overtime thriller in the tournament final over Hibriten.

Last week, Patton defeated West Caldwell, the third 20-game winner from a year ago, when Jayden Powell dropped in a layup as time expired. Hibriten routed Draughn in its season opener.

Like the girls above, only two teams are guaranteed spots. Patton could make a big statement with a win on Thursday.

HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY SCHEDULE:

(Schedules listed are taken from information provided by the conference secretaries, athletic departments of individual schools, from information published by the schools on its websites, or on MaxPreps.com. Schedules are subject to change without notice.)

NOTE FOR BASKETBALL: All times are varsity times approximate, Basketball games are girl-boy varsity doubleheaders, played after the completion of junior varsity which start at 4 p.m. (4:30 if no JV girls game is played). Varsity girls start around 6:30 p.m. with the boys to follow around 8 p.m. (earlier if no JV girls game). South Fork 2A Conference girls varsity will start after the JV girls, then JV boys followed by the boys varsity.

Attendance at games are limited to 25 persons per game with tickets sold only by the home team. Most games are streamed live by the home school. Here is the links to those web streams.

SOUTH FORK 2A CONFERENCE: All games are available at sfcnetwork.tv. Click on the link, then click on the school logo at the top of the page for the game of interest. (fee required.)

NORTHWESTERN FOOTHILLS 2A CONFERENCE:

Bunker Hill: Bunker Hill High School Facebook Page (fee required)

Draughn: DHS Live on YouTube

East Burke: East Burke High Facebook Page

Fred T. Foard: Fred T. Foard High School Facebook Page (fee required)

Hibriten: Hibriten High School on YouTube

Patton: Patton High Basketball on Facebook

West Caldwell: WCHS TV on YouTube

West Iredell: NHFS Network (subscription fee required)

NORTHWESTERN 3A/4A CONFERENCE:

Alexander Central: NFHS Network (subscription fee required)

Freedom: FHS Live on YouTube or Patriot Nation – Freedom Patriot Faithful

Hickory: Hickory High Boys Basketball on Facebook

McDowell: McDowell High Athletics Facebook page

St. Stephens: Tribal Sports Network on Facebook (fee required)

South Caldwell: SCHS Stream on YouTube

Watauga: NFHS Network (subscription fee required)

Week of Jan. 11-16

MONDAY, JAN. 11

BASKETBALL (girls/boys DH)

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Hickory at Freedom, 6/7:30 p.m.

St. Stephens at McDowell, 6/7:30 p.m.

Alexander Central at Watauga, 6:30/8 p.m.

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

Draughn at Fred T. Foard, 5/6:30 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

Lake Norman Charter at Maiden (girls only), 5 p.m.

TUESDAY, JAN. 12

VOLLEYBALL

NCHSAA FIRST ROUND PLAYOFFS

2A

No. 9 Owen at No. 8 Fred T. Foard

No. 13 Patton at No. 4 East Lincoln

No. 14 Maiden at No. 3 West Wilkes

3A

No. 12 Hickory at No. 5 Western Guilford

BASKETBALL (girls/boys DH)

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Alexander Central at St. Stephens, 6/7:30 p.m.

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

Fred T. Foard at East Burke, 6/7:30 p.m.

West Caldwell at Draughn (boys only), 6 p.m.

Bunker Hill at Patton, 6:30/8 p.m.

Hibriten at West Iredell, 6:30/8 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

Bandys at Lincolnton, 5:15/8 p.m.

Newton-Conover at North Lincoln, 5:15/ 8 p.m.

Lake Norman Charter at Maiden (boys only) 6 p.m.

SWIMMING

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Alexander Central, South Caldwell, Watauga at Wilkes Family YMCA, Wilkesboro, 6 p.m.

Freedom, Hickory, McDowell at Hickory Foundation YMCA, 6 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 13

BASKETBALL (girls/ boys DH)

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

South Caldwell at Hickory, 6/7:30 p.m.

Nonconference

Freedom at Mountain Heritage

THURSDAY, JAN. 14

VOLLEYBALL

NCHSAA SECOND ROUND PLAYOFFS

Teams and Sites TBA

BASKETBALL (girls/boys DH)

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

West Iredell at Fred T. Foard, 6/7:30 p.m.

Bunker Hill at West Caldwell, 6:30/8 p.m.

East Burke at Draughn, 6:30/8 p.m.

Patton at Hibriten, 6:30/8 p.m.

SWIMMING

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

Patton at Fred T. Foard, Hickory Foundation YMCA, 6 p.m.

FRIDAY, JAN. 15

CROSS COUNTRY

NCHSAA 2A WEST REGIONAL, McAlpine Park, Charlotte

NCHSAA 4A WEST REGIONAL, McAlpine Park, Charlotte

BASKETBALL (girls/boys DH)

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference

Freedom at South Caldwell, 6/7:30 p.m.

McDowell at Alexander Central, 6/7:30 p.m.

Watauga at St. Stephens, 6/7:30 p.m.

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

West Iredell at Bunker Hill, 6:30/8 p.m.

South Fork 2A Conference

Newton-Conover at Lake Norman Charter, 4:30/7:30 p.m.

Bandys at East Lincoln, 5:15/8 p.m.

Maiden at North Lincoln, 5:15/8 p.m.

Nonconference

Forestview at Hickory, 6:30/8 p.m.

SWIMMING

Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference

West Caldwell, West Iredell at East Burke, Valdese Recreation Center, 4 p.m.

SATURDAY, JAN. 16

CROSS COUNTRY

NCHSAA 3A WEST REGIONAL, Jackson Park, Hendersonville

VOLLEYBALL

NCHSAA THIRD ROUND PLAYOFFS

Teams and Sites TBA

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