Conway’s chances of winning its first playoff game in more than a decade improved dramatically Friday.
And it had little to do with the Tigers’ game against Carolina Forest.
Aiken – the team coming to town for Wednesday’s Class AAAA first-round game – will be doing so without its top player in uniform. Hornets senior Shawn Moore, the Aiken Standard reported this weekend, was suspended for his role in a fight that broke out in his team’s game Thursday against South Aiken.
Moore is averaging approximately 24 points per game and has scored in double figures in each contest this season, according to the Standard. Add in the fact that Aiken will have to travel approximately three and a half hours on game day, and things have lined up in Conway’s favor.
And while Conway coach Mike Hopkins wasn’t looking for any gifts, he’s also more compelled to get his first playoff victory in his seven seasons at the school.
“Aiken can be a team that is backed up in a corner, kind of like a wounded animal,” Hopkins said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get.
“You could look at it that way. But hey, that’s why you’ve got to play the games. … They’re not making this long trip here just to say ‘Here, Conway. Take the game.’ I like our odds. But once they get here, we’ve got to play.”
This is just the Tigers’ second trip to the playoffs since Hopkins took over. The team lost in the first round in 2011 despite getting a first-round home game.
However, this season, Conway has had the type of production Hopkins was hoping for prior to the start of the year. The team was locked into second place in the region before the regular-season finale. Yet, the team still finished strong, beating Carolina Forest 58-47.
Conway’s only region losses came to divisional champion Sumter, and only by a combined seven points.
Almost as important, the Tigers have played in plenty of close games, something that happens frequently in the postseason. To date, 13 of Conway’s games have been decided by five points or less, including all but one Region VI-AAAA contest.
Additionally, the team played in five overtime games this year, finishing those with a 4-1 mark.
“That’s huge,” Hopkins said. “That South Florence game over there [on Feb. 5] – that was the second overtime game against them this year. We know how to play overtime games. This group right here is a very resilient group. Those close games, that’s a big thing right there.”
Facing the best
Several area teams’ first-round match-ups are against some of the state’s top teams in their respective classes.
The Waccamaw boys team, who was already forced to win a two-game play-in to earn the Region VIII-AA No. 4 seed, will face Lake Marion on Wednesday. Lake Marion has been the No. 1 team in the state for most of the year.
The Georgetown boys had a similar path. The Bulldogs defeated St. James Friday night to earn the Region VII-AAA No. 4 spot. The reward is a trip to Hartsville on Tuesday. All the Red Foxes have done lately is win the 2012 Class AAA state title, go 23-1 so far this season and garner the class’ top ranking all season.
“Nobody is expecting us to win,” Georgetown coach Alvin Walker said. “If this was an NCAA bracket, and everyone was filling out their brackets, not too many people would be sliding Georgetown over.”
Walker is taking an optimistic view into Tuesday’s game. As he puts it, Hartsville is the team to beat.
And any Class AAA team that wants to win the state title is going to have to de-throne the Red Foxes.
“Our goal, and everybody’s goal is to play for the state championship,” he said. “We’re going to have to play them sooner or later. It’s just a little more sooner.
“If you want to be the state champion, you’ve got to play the best.”
The Bulldogs girls team, courtesy of a fourth-place region finish, will also be hitting up one of the state’s best when they travel to Crestwood Monday night. The Knights are 20-5 and finished 10-0 in Region VI-AAA this season.
Two other girls teams – Carvers Bay in Class A and Waccamaw in Class AA – will also be playing top seeds. The Bears will head to Latta Monday night, while Warriors will play at Lake City Tuesday.
Meanwhile, three Grand Strand teams will be at the opposite end of that spectrum.
The North Myrtle Beach and Carvers Bay boys teams and the North Myrtle Beach girls squad will enter the postseason as favorites to advance.
All three of those teams will have home-court advantage through the first three rounds.