East Surry knew it would need everything to go its way in order to knock of a Winston-Salem Prep team ranked second in the state’s latest NCpreps.com 1A poll.
For a brief moment, it looked like the stars in Mount Airy’s Howard Finch Gymnasium might be in alignment for the Cardinals. East’s Luke Cartwright opened the game with a thunderous dunk, and the team’s defense held strong in the early going, as the fourth-seeded Cardinals took an early 6-2 lead on last year’s Northwest Conference and West Regional champions.
Naturally, this woke the Phoenix up, and they ended the first quarter on a 13-2 run to lead 15-8 after one, but East Surry still didn’t roll over. The lead was 21-10 when Prep’s Chaz Gwyn did a little too much jawing and earned a technical foul midway through the second quarter. The Cardinals capitalized on this mistake, with Trevon Simmons and Adam Burke hitting three free throws between them. John Marion then knocked down a 15-footer on the ensuing possession, and East Surry was back in the game at 21-15. For the next few minutes, the teams traded scores, and the Cardinals were hoping to get into the halftime locker room down by single digits if nothing else.
Unfortunately for East Surry, the explosive Phoenix had one more first-half run in them. Prep ended the second quarter on a 16-4 run, blowing the game wide open at 39-21, and this time, there was no recovery for East Surry, which fell 72-43 and will now have to wait until the weekend to see if its resume, which includes a 10-16 overall record and a tie for third place in the conference, is good enough to earn it a state playoff berth. A widely circulated projection last week had the Cardinals in the field as the 15th seed in the Midwest.
Winston-Salem Prep, now 21-3 on the season, will face the winner of tonight’s other semifinal between Mount Airy and Bishop McGuinness in the tournament’s championship game on Friday night, also in the Bears’ gym.
The Phoenix, who had seemed to pick up its intensity after Gwyn’s technical, kept it up after the break and quickly built the lead to as many as 27 points. East Surry did try to fight back, cutting the lead back to 19 in the fourth quarter when Simmons hit a three off the right wing, but only 5:43 was left in the game and Prep still led 55-36. As it was, the Cardinals were unable to get any closer, and the Phoenix actually pulled away again down the stretch.East Surry freshman Jefferson Boaz hung tough against some extremely physical play by Prep and led the Cardinals with 12 points. Marion added eight, while Cartwright had six, and Simmons and Caleb Hearn had five each. For the Phoenix, Daivien Williamson was the top scorer with 18 points. Gwyn, Zaire Williams and Levon McCullom each tallied eight.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.