Region 4-4A basketball play commences on Friday with a full slate of three varsity doubleheaders: Irmo at Blythewood, Ridge View at Richland Northeast, Lugoff-Elgin at Spring Valley.
The undefeated, top-ranked Yellow Jacket boys went through 13 December games without incident, winning two tournament titles. South Carolina-bound Justin McKie (17.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.2 apg), Detrek Browning (13.7 ppg, 4.5 apg, 3.7 spg) and Javis Howard (8.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) are the top producers. Defensively, Irmo is outstanding allowing a paltry average of 47.2 points a game. Only one team has managed to score 60 or more points on Tim Whipples team so far. The Jackets are averaging 13.8 steals per game and forcing the opposition into and averaging of 19.5 turnovers.
Sophomore KeAsia Jackson (14.9 ppg), senior Briana Baylor (10.5 ppg) and sophomore Olivis Jabber (8.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg) lead the way for the Irmo girls (7-6).
The Bengal girls (10-4) had an interesting December, losing only to Lower Richland (in the championship game of the A.C. Flora Tip-Off tournament) and three times to top-ranked, defending state champion Dutch Fork. Given those facts, Blythewood seems to have an excellent shot at winning its first region title at the 4A level. Seniors Kierra Brown (13.2 ppg, 3.2 apg, 2.2 spg) and Aaliyah Keels (13.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.4 spg) and sophomore Breelyn Blanding (9.9 ppg) are the Bengal leaders.
The Blythewood boys are 8-7 in their first season under former Lower Richland coach Zeke Washington.
The No. 3 Cavalier boys stand at 11-3 and are coming off a championship effort at the Capital City Classic. Jason Powells team relies almost exclusively on the starting lineup guards Devante Anderson, Quiron Cooke and Aaron Scott and forwards Kendall Benjamin and Mark Phillips. Offensively, RNE is balanced with the three guards doing the bulk of the scoring. The team defensive effort has been outstanding to date. The Cavs gave up an average of 43.8 points a game in December.
The RNE girls are taking the first steps toward building a competitive program under new coach Precious Caldwell, who had a nice run of success at Eau Claire. The Cavaliers are coming off back-to-back 0-12 region campaigns and enter Fridays game mired in a 31-game region losing streak.
The Blazer boys (8-5) got off to a big start, but ran into some issues as the December schedule progressed. Injuries and illness came into play, as did a rishing level of competition. Still, fourth-ranked Ridge View hopes to challenge for the region title with guards Trevon Howell and Jordan Portee and insiders Jarrell Brantley, DreQuwan Wages and Jose Roman in key roles.
Ridge Views girls lost six of their last eight outings to finish December with a 5-6 grade. Alexus Jackson (14.5 ppg, 10.3 rpg), Jontay Mitchem (13.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.9 spg) and Briana Johnson (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.6 apg) are the top Blazer producers.
The Vikings (9-6) prepped for the start of region play by taking part in the Chick-fil-A Classic and the Beach Ball Classic. Spring Valley went 3-4 are the two premier events. Perry Dozier, Jr. and Dominique Taylor came through the ringer in good shape. Dozier, sophomore son of SV coach Perry Dozier, averaged 18.4 points in the seven tournament games, while Taylor checked in at 16.8 ppg.
Spring Valleys girls went 9-4 during the first month of a rebuilding project. Two of the losses came to 3A No. 1 Orangeburg-Wilkinson, another to 4A No. 1 Dutch Fork in the Capital City Classic championship game. With DF out of the region picture, the Vikings figure to be a top contender for region honors again this season. Junior Cierra Carter (19.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg) has emerged as the new team leader with help from sophomores Akia Dunlap (8.5 ppg) and Megan Davis (6.7 ppg).
The Demon boys are off to an 8-5 start and showing some offensive punch behind the play of Dre Scott (16.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.0 apg), Bobby Gary (16.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.8 spg) and Michael Sumpter (12.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 3.8 spg). The question is: Are the Demons ready to compete better in 4A region play? L-E is, after all, 1-23 in conference games in its first two seasons at the highest level.
Senior Dahiana Rodriguez (15.9 ppg, 3.5 spg) and junior Samantha Jean (8.0 ppg. 3.6 rpg, 2.2 spg) are the leaders of the Demon girls (5-8). Like the boys, the L-E girls have struggled in conference matters since joining the 4A ranks. The Demons are 4-20 in two seasons with all the wins coming against Richland NE.