Region play for area high school basketball teams starts this week.
And as coaches have come accustomed to calling it, consider this the second season. The next eight or 10 games – depending on class and region – will decide the playoff hopes for every boys and girls squad.
For some, what they saw during the non-region portion of the schedule was more encouraging than for others.
“You just never know. That’s the funny thing about this game,” Carolina Forest boys coach Brian Brunson said of his team’s 3-10 record in non-region games. “You just never know how your team is going to play, how it’s going to respond. They’re teenagers. We’re on a tough skid right now, one that we have not experienced in the last four years. This is new territory for us. We’re a young team.”
Squads like Carolina Forest can take solace in the fact that a nice run in region play will quickly erase the frustrations of the early part of the season. It starts Tuesday for many of those area teams.
St. James’ boys and girls teams, each with legitimate playoff and region title hopes, head to North Myrtle Beach on Tuesday in the first of two meetings between the schools. The Chiefs’ girls, ranked among the best in the state in Class AAA, have just two losses all season, both of which came in the Shootout By The Sea tournament. A victory over St. James, the defending region champs, would be a great boost toward North Myrtle Beach’s first region championship since 2005.
On the boys side, several teams will be nearing full strength for the first time all season. For instance, Carvers Bay has been playing with a less-than-healthy Da’Shaun Aiken most of the year. Coach Jeff Mezzatesta was playing him sparingly, and even sat the all-state candidate down last week while he recovered from a strained groin muscle.
“He’s a dual-star athlete for football and basketball. If you add track in there, he’ll be in the state championships for track,” Mezzatesta said. “But the wear and tear on a single-A athlete is going to show after a while.”
Aiken led Carvers Bay to the Region VII-A football title, and within weeks he was suiting up for the basketball team. Mezzatesta said he had to convince Aiken – and several other players who were suffering from flu-like symptoms – that the next 10 games were much more important than a handful of contests in December.
In Region VI-AAAA, which includes Carolina Forest and Conway, it’s actually only eight games. Each of the schools will play the other four teams twice. Conway’s first region game will come Friday at home against Sumter.
The other 12 area schools start their region slates Tuesday.
State basketball rankings
The first South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association basketball rankings in three weeks look awfully similar to the one released just prior to the holidays, although the North Myrtle Beach boys team jumped three spots in Class AAA.
The Chiefs, on the strength of their title in the Shootout By The Sea tournament, moved up to No. 5 in the class.
The North Myrtle Beach girls team dropped two spots to No. 7. The only other area team ranked in the statewide poll, Carvers Bay, moved up two spots to No. 4 in the Class A boys rankings.
The Carvers Bay girls team, ranked 10th on Dec. 19, dropped out of the Class A girls poll.
Clemson, South Carolina offer Conway freshman
Bryan Edwards’ name wasn’t even on the initial Conway Tigers football roster last fall.
Edwards was no lock for varsity playing time. Within weeks, though, he established himself as a potent receiver and reliable defensive back for coach Chuck Jordan.
Just before the holidays, Clemson and South Carolina put Edwards into another category. Both schools offered the Class of 2016 player.
“He is an unusual talent. If he continues to develop, he’s going to be a very, very good one,” Jordan said. “He’s got the physical attributes, and he’s got a great work ethic. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t continue to get better.
“The things that’s wild, and this is crazy, he just turned 14 years old. He was 13 the entire football season.”
Edwards turned 14 in November. Despite his youth, his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame made him a threat on both sides of the ball. He caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the team’s season-opening win against Georgetown.
On the season, Edwards caught 17 passes for 225 yards and nine touchdowns. That was in a limited offensive roll.
Defensively, he had 25 tackles, seven pass break-ups and a pair of fumble recoveries. The numbers may not necessarily jump off the page, but his presence certainly jumped off the film.
Jordan sent film to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and South Carolina assistant Steve Spurrier Jr. following the Mr. Football banquet.
“It didn’t take them long to get back in touch with me,” Jordan said.
Edwards won’t be able to sign with any college for another three years. By that point, his offer sheet could be in the dozens.
“Once people see that Clemson and South Carolina have offered, they’re going to jump on it,” Jordan said. “That’s the way it goes.”
Another lacrosse team
Carolina Forest has taken the next step to adding the county’s second official lacrosse program.
Beginning this month, the Panthers will have a club-level team that will compete against other high schools from around the state. The team will not be sanctioned by the county or the South Carolina High School League, but if all goes well, that could change as soon as 2014.
“We want to get through this first year and show we’re self-sustaining, and then hoping the county will let us do it as a sanctioned sport,” volunteer coach Zach McQuigg said.
Socastee is the only team in Horry County with a full-fledged high school team. The Braves roster was built with players from several different area high schools, including Carolina Forest.
McQuigg’s team will follow the SCHSL’s game, practice and offseason schedule restrictions in hopes of streamlining the process. South Carolina lacrosse programs can begin practice on Jan. 21, and the first games can be played on Feb. 18.
McQuigg, who spent time as a football and basketball assistant at Carolina Forest before taking on lacrosse, is hoping this phase will ease the process some. The Panthers will have two home games this season. Those will played on the old football practice fields while the football stadium undergoes field renovations.
Much like Socastee did before it became an official sport, Carolina Forest will essentially load up on exhibition games this year. The Panthers will play Socastee, as well as teams from Charleston, Columbia and the Upstate.
However, it won’t be cheap. Without funding from the school or Horry County Schools, the team is relying on donations and fundraisers to foot the bill.
“The travel is crazy,” McQuigg said. “We’re a couple thousand dollars in travel for five away games.
“We really can’t [make long-term plans]. I’d like to, but just being a start-up… until we play the sport, I’m not sure what kind of long-term plans we can make.”