The final quarter begins for the Varsity Viking basketball teams–the final eight minutes for the 11 seniors of each program.
In these eight minutes, the girls begin to lose grip on their neck-and-neck game and the boys fight back against the lead of their opponent.
Every foul, every timeout and every free throw inches the Vikings further and further away from two possible regional championship appearances.
Finally, the buzzer rings and 25 miles from each other, the Vikings walk off the court one last time on March 3.
The girl’s game at Mallard Creek
Northwest girls’ basketball is known for their success throughout the past six years, this year’s seniors have gone 106-14 in their career, and 2020 is no different.
Six months ago, the coaching staff and the team had never met, but on March 3, they ended their season like a family.
“They’re my first group that was mine–they’re a special group of kids,” head coach Haley Hackett said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better season to start (my time here).”
This year, their 25-4 record, HAECO Tournament Championship, Conference Tournament Championship and Myrtle Beach Crescom Bank Championship proves their elite abilities.
“We accomplished a lot this season that no one thought we would,” senior Reagan Kargo said.
A five-game game plan
Before the game, Hackett put together a game plan from five game films in order to shut down Mallard Creek’s main scoring guards:
5’7” freshman Samyha Suffren, averaging 13.5 points a game and two assists
5’9” senior Neveah Brown, averaging 14.2 points a game and four assists, and
6’1” junior Kennedy Simpson, averaging 10 points a game and 2.6 rebounds
With a new defense, altered offenses and a prepared press–Hackett was prepared to break through the Maverick’s pressure and stop their instant ability to create fast breaks.
“As a coach you always look back and think about things you could have adjusted,” Hackett said. “If we played them again I probably would have played the same game.”
A new tandem-stack defense where the inside played a containing zone and the outside closely held the perimeter, which is completely different from their usual man-to-man or match-up zone. Hackett installed this new defense along with other changes so the girls wouldn’t be read like a book from game film.
Up by one in the first quarter, the Viking’s plan is working, but their opponent is known to be a second-half team with determination and grit.
Each quarter proves to be another momentum change–the Mavericks hit 57 percent of their field goals and Simpson makes 50 percent of her three pointers.
The score’s tied going into the fourth quarter and both teams still have the chance for a regional championship–and the chance of going home.
The Mavericks come out strong and gain a quick lead due to fast breaks and fouls, but the Vikings still trail close behind.
The clock ticks down, and the lead that was once an easy comeback for Northwest–was now a stressful and unclimbable slope.
At practice before this game, Hackett hyped up the team saying she wanted them to play Mallard Creek so hard that the Mavericks “wanted the clock to stop and the game to end”–but the numbers seem to be trickling down faster than the Vikings want.
“We still played with energy, it just didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” Kargo said.
They walk off the court and head for their last locker room talk–the final score being 50-62–and more than sweat drips on the floor.
“The emotion meant they still had a lot of fight left and that they weren’t ready to be done,” Hackett said.
There’s not a dry eye in the final cluster as the Vikings said goodbye to their season–and their seniors.
Hackett begins her speech with the confession that she isn’t crying about the loss, but rather the loss of the four seniors: Kargo, Thalia Carter, Hannah Baker, and Megan Harkey.
Carter and Kargo’s consistency in games as starting guards, Baker’s merciless attitude, and Harkey’s big presence on and off the court boosted the team to new heights every game.
“I will miss the team the most and all the friends I made, but also the coaching staff because they were really great,” Kargo said.
Six months ago, this group of coaches–Hackett, Gretchen, and Amanda Cogley–had never met their Elite Eight team. Now, they are a family–a family that’s barreled past all those who didn’t expect anything from their starting position.
“It’s really rare to have a team that has that much want and drive to really prove people wrong,” Hackett said.
In the end, the high scorers were senior Regan Kargo with 19 points, junior Jadyn Murray with 12, and senior Megan Harkey, senior Thalia Carter, junior Aniston Greene, and senior Hannah Baker with four.
In bonus shots, Mallard Creek hit nine of 13 free throws throughout the game. A stat that paid off for the Mavericks in the fourth in a 11-23 fourth quarter.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t be our last game, but I left it all out there on the court,” Kargo said.
Boys’ basketball at Charlotte Olympic
Meanwhile at Charlotte Olympic, the boys begin their game with a slow start and 11 turnovers. Olympic’s senior Josh Banks comes out strong and ends up being the game’s high scorer with 31 points. Head coach Lee Reavis planned for Bank’s and senior Trevor William’s impact on the game.
This hole that the Vikings had dug themselves in, along with the close quarters of the opponent’s gym, which is filled with Trojan fans, only pours more fuel on the Viking fire.
Senior Shaq Marsh shocks the court with 10 points in the second quarter, alone, as the team’s starters follow close behind his leadership. This momentum change is one of many as the boys continued to fight like the girls, 25 miles down the road.
Northwest goes into the locker room at the half ready to continue their run while Olympic has to rethink their what they thought would be an ensured win.
Second half mentality
Seniors Christian Hampton and Dean Reiber come out with a new mentality knowing that this could be their last game.
Their combined 13 points came from their inside game tied the game making the ending minutes–once again–anyone’s game.
Every bonus shot, foul and fast break by the Trojans puts the boys against the clock more than the mere seven points between the teams.
But the buzzer sounds again, and their missed shots and 19 for 30 free throw ratio ends their season. The high scorers are Hampton with 17 points, Reiber with 16, Marsh with 10 and senior Robbie Boulton with 7.
The 62-69 score stares them in the face as they walk by their celebratory opponent.
In the locker room, the boys are disappointed by their beginning efforts.
“You pour your heart and soul into something for three to four years and the realization that your high school career is over–it hits hard,” Reavis said.
The seven seniors who lead the games and created an Elite Eight team over their four years of high school will now move on, including Reiber, who is committed to Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Their season is still one for the books with a Conference Tournament Championship, third place in the HAECO Invitational and their well-known starting players.
“We didn’t go as far as we wanted to, but in time when we step back, we’ll have more appreciation for the year we had and the growth of the team and the seniors over their years here,” Reavis said.
All photos by Wayne Phillips from the Feb. 29 playoff games.