Bulldogs, Villains open regional play tonight
Over the year, the Trinity boys have made steady gains, which now have resulted in their first regional appearance in five years.
So, the Bulldogs (22-4), seeded third in the Midwest, will look to continue their strong late-season play tonight in the NCHSAA 2A regional semifinals when they take on top-seeded Cuthbertson (27-3) at 8:30 in the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center.
“It always feels good to get here,” Trinity coach Tim Kelly said during Monday’s regional press conference. “You’ve made it to the Elite Eight, so to say. We haven’t been since ‘08, so it feels good.
“We’ve continued to get better every week, from day 1. Our defense has really been strong throughout the sectionals. Our shooting has been good. We’ve been patient, sharing the ball, making sure we get good looks. And we’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
The Bulldogs are coming off an impressive 60-31 win Friday at No. 2 Central Davidson in which they jumped to an 8-0 lead and quickly pulled away, thanks to patience and great shooting on the one end and tough defense and solid rebounding on the other end.
So, Trinity, which returns to the regional for the first time since 2008 when it won the regional before falling to Kinston in the 3A final and seeks its first state championship since 2004, is feeling pretty good about the way it’s playing right now.
“That was the best game we’ve played all year,” Kelly said. “Obviously, winning that was huge because it gets you here, and it’s just the culmination of our kids’ excitement about being in the playoffs, playing loose.
“We’ve talked about playing to win and not playing to lose — which is what we’re going to have to do (tonight) against the best team we’ve seen all year, the most athletic team. We’re just going to have to do what we do well.”
The last couple years, the Bulldogs have had very talented teams that haven’t advanced very far in the playoffs, for a number of reasons. But this team, which won the PAC-6 regular season but lost in the tournament semifinals, has managed to find a way to get it down in the state playoffs.
“Last year, we really thought we had a great opportunity and came up short,” Kelly said. “And the year before that we thought we had a shot. So, it just shows that the teams you think might get you there sometimes don’t. The chemistry might not click exactly right or a couple bad breaks.
“But this group this year, going into the sectionals, we looked at the possible matchups and we really felt good about it. We thought we had a chance to win it. Being the No. 1 seed was big because we got to play two games at home. But the biggest thing this year was that the kids have expected to win.”
But Trinity, which has been keyed lately by David Newcomer, Brandon Earnhardt and Jarrod Rogers, will have to continue playing well in order to beat Cuthbertson, which is the defending regional champion and defeated fellow PAC-6 member T.W. Andrews by 29 in the first round.
“They’re so explosive at any time,” Kelly said. “The other night in their sectional championship game, they were actually behind and came out in the third quarter and, boom, put 27 points up. If we allow that — and I say ‘allow,’ they might just do it — but we’ve really got to avoid those runs.”
VILLAINS MAKE IT EIGHT STRAIGHT
The Bishop McGuinness girls simply have a knack for winning at this time of the year. Their record in the regional over the previous seven years — 14-0 — is proof enough. So are their seven straight NCHSAA 1A state championship titles.
But, as they prepare to face Lake Norman Charter tonight at 8:30 in the regional semifinals at UNCG’s Fleming Gymnasium, the Villains focus very little on their past accomplishments, taking only what they learned from previous experiences that they can apply to this year.
“We don’t (look at it),” Bishop coach Brian Robinson said. “Honestly, we play one game at a time. We don’t even look at what we’ve done in the past. It’s on the walls in our gym — we know that. But this team has not won it, and every step is a brand new step.
“I tell them at the beginning of the season that the worst thing they can do is reflect. Because when you reflect, you’re not moving forward. They have taken that to heart. ... I think they’re very proud of themselves for making it this far because it is one of the goals this team quietly has.”
That was a hard lesson to learn during the season, though, as the Villains opened the season well but hit a rough stretch in late December through much of January. It came to a head against Providence Day in the Providence Day Showcase on Jan. 21 in falling 44-21, dropping them to 6-8.
“We played about as bad as I’ve seen us play in my 11 years at Bishop,” Robinson said. “We had to make a decision, and we had about a 30-minute conversation in the locker room to decide how were going to go. It was sustaining their focus. With young kids, it was like: light on, light off.
“I think they thought that because they put on the jersey, that they can just go out and beat teams. But especially with this jersey, it makes your opponent rise up even more. But I think that shook them because they got embarrassed ... but from that point on we’ve been playing very, very good basketball.”
Since that loss, Bishop has won 14 of 15 games, thanks in large part to players like juniors Cameron Nieters, Julia Brown and Olivia DeFrancesco — who were role players in previous years — finding their way in leadership roles with a corps of young, talented players.
“I think it took them a while to understand that they are the leaders of this team, being just juniors,” Robinson said. “They had to help out Tia (Cappucio). Tessa (Johnston), Alex (Putman) and Danielle (Nieters) — all the younger ones.
“It took a couple losses for them to realize that and to change their mindset or we’d be done early this year. But I give them a lot of credit for being mature. It’s been really fun to watch. As the season’s gone along, I’ve had to do less from a leadership standpoint.”
Their challenging nonconference schedule has done largely what the Villains wanted it to do: to prepare them for the rigors of conference play, in which they won the Northwest 1A/2A tournament title, and their ultimate goal of winning another state title.
But first Bishop (22-7), seeded fourth in the Midwest, must continue to play well against third-seeded Lake Norman Charter (24-5), making its first regional appearance.
“From what I understand, they’re one of the tallest teams we’ve played all year,” Robinson said. “The one thing that stands out to me is that they’ve done something we haven’t, and that’s beat East Surry. And I think that gets our players’ attention more than anything. ...
“We’re going to have to control the tempo. If we play a halfcourt game, then I think we’ll be in a lot of trouble. We’ll have to get turnovers and make some layups and easy shots. It’s controlling our nerves, controlling our emotions and them being able to just execute our game plan.”