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NP faces tough task at states

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North Wilkes girls' basketball coach Steven Phillips talks with his team during a game this season.

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

For North Pitt's girls' basketball team to claim its third state championship in school history Saturday, it will have to get past a program looking for its first.

West Regional champion North Wilkes (28-3) is all that remains between the Panthers (25-5) and their second 2-A state title in the last three seasons. The two teams battle at noon Saturday at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

The Vikings are appearing in the state finals for the first time in school history, but that doesn't mean success is new to them. North Pitt's title opponents have won at least 26 games in each of the last three seasons and feature a roster on which their four leading scorers are seniors.

"We've got some good experience," NW coach Steven Phillips said Monday at the state championship press conference in Durham. "We've got several seniors, had a great season last year and returned most of that team. Experience and unselfishness, those are kind of the trademarks of our team."

Last year's North Wilkes team made the West Regional semifinals, the deepest the program had ever run in the postseason. This year's squad, which has lost just one game since the first week of December, got to the cusp of a championship by downing Mountain Heritage 51-48 in the regional finals at Wake Forest's Lawrence Joel Coliseum last weekend.

Having played in one ACC arena in the past week provided at least a glimpse of what Saturday's setup at the Smith Center will look like, but Phillips admitted to a little uncertainty regarding how his team will handle the scenario.

"The stage is definitely a concern," he said. "I think playing in the West Regional final at Wake Forest can only help, but this is the biggest stage for them and I'm hoping they can handle it. I've got some older kids and they're mature, so I think they can handle it."

North Pitt has two starters who played on the Smith Center floor two years ago when the Panthers won a state title, and another two who did not play, but have experience being in the arena on the state's biggest stage.

The Vikings have three players averaging double figures, led by 6-foot-1 forward Savannah Billings' 14.7 points per game. Guard Emily Phillips is second on the team, averaging 12.8.

The sum of those two averages (27.5) barely eclipses the average of North Pitt's leading scorer, Nyjanique Langley, who averages 26.9 points per game and dropped 41 points on Kinston in NP's 71-51 East Regional finals victory last Saturday in Minges Coliseum.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, her name was the first Phillips mentioned when breaking down the task his team faces Saturday.

"I know they're really good and I know Langley is a star," he said. "We'll have to game plan and I'll probably lose a lot of sleep trying to figure out how to slow her down, but I also know they've got a lot of other players that can play. They wouldn't be here if they weren't very good. I'm expecting a really tough opponent."

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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