Area hoops teams eyeing spots in state semifinals
Feb. 22—A short drive to the USC Aiken Convocation Center is now two wins away for six area high school basketball teams.
State quarterfinals are on the schedule for Wednesday and Thursday, with the winners advancing to either Bob Jones University in Greenville or the Florence Center for Upper and Lower State championship games, respectively. From there, it's on to USCA for a shot at the title.
The area teams that advanced to the round of eight are all in the Lower State, with three hosting third-round games.
Class AAAA Girls
The top-seeded North Augusta girls (19-2) are in the familiar position of playing for a state semifinal berth, but simultaneously in an unfamiliar position of having a chance at revenge. They host No. 2 seed North Myrtle Beach (18-5) on Wednesday, and it was the Chiefs who stunned the Jackets in the second round last year to end North Augusta's run of four consecutive Class AAAA state championships. North Augusta has won 25 of its last 27 playoff games, including wins this year over Myrtle Beach and Hartsville by an average of 33.5 points per game. North Myrtle Beach beat Airport and Darlington by 23 points per game to set up a return trip to North Augusta.
There could be a Region 5-AAAA rematch in Florence if both North Augusta and Aiken pick up wins Wednesday. The second-seeded Hornets (20-6) will have to get it done on the road at Region 6-AAAA champ South Florence. Aiken has only lost twice since Winter Break, both of those to North Augusta, and has won its two playoff games over Colleton County and James Island by 31.5 points per game. South Florence (19-2) beat May River and Hilton Head Island by 30.5 points per game.
Class AAA Boys
Also playing Wednesday are the Fox Creek boys, and there may not be a team in the state that came into the playoffs on a higher note than the Predators (21-8). That's because they finished the regular season with a 60-57 win over Orangeburg-Wilkinson, at the time the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAA. That's who the Predators play Wednesday night on the road. Fox Creek is no average No. 3 seed, which O-W knows well, and the Predators have gone on the road to knock off Loris 45-44 and Region 6-AAA champion Crestwood 63-61 in overtime. O-W (25-3) opened the playoffs with a 60-point win over Aynor, then beat Manning 80-69 in the second round.
Class AA Girls
The rematch theme continues in the Class AA girls' bracket, as Silver Bluff hosts Philip Simmons in a clash of last season's Lower State finalists. Silver Bluff won that game at Lake Marion High School to advance to the state championship game for the first time, and since losing to Saluda in the title game the Lady Bulldogs have focused solely on returning to the Convocation Center for another shot. Silver Bluff (16-2) beat Woodland 80-33 to open the playoffs and Marion 45-40 in the second round, and the team's last loss was by three points to Class AAAAA quarterfinalist Lexington. The Iron Horses (16-3) have won nine straight, including playoff wins over Barnwell, 55-19, and Latta, 49-46 in overtime.
Class AAAA Boys
A Region 5-AAAA rematch is also a possibility in the boys' bracket. North Augusta (17-8) hosts West Florence (23-3) on Thursday in a rematch of December's Pepsi Carolina Classic championship game, which West Florence won 78-63 at South Florence High School. North Augusta is 10-1 since then, with the only loss coming Jan. 28 at Midland Valley, and the Region 5-AAAA champs have won playoff games over Myrtle Beach and Hartsville by an average of 18.5 points per game. West Florence has won 10 games in a row, including playoff wins over Airport and Beaufort by 16.5 points per game.
Should the Jackets win, Midland Valley (17-8) could set up a winner-take-all third meeting of the season between the two if the Mustangs can pick up a road win Thursday over Region 6-AAAA champion Wilson in a revival of what was a fierce playoff rivalry during the Mustangs' run to back-to-back Class AAA title games in 2015-16. Midland Valley picked up a key win over South Aiken in the regular-season finale to earn the region's No. 2 seed, then beat Lucy Beckham 79-73 and James Island 57-52 to set up this matchup. Wilson (20-5) beat Aiken and South Aiken in the playoffs by an average of 19 points per game.