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Pitt County power: Fans, teams soak in glory

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Farmville Central players celebrate their state championship win Saturday night. (Juliette Cooke/The Daily Reflector)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, March 17, 2019

RALEIGH — Chants of “252, 252, 252 …” boomed in Reynolds Coliseum on Saturday during the final minute of South Central High School’s breakthrough and blowout victory over West Charlotte for the Falcons’ first boys’ basketball state championship.

After Farmville Central split its two games — the girls losing to Mountain Heritage in a battle of unbeaten teams before the Farmville boys defeated Forest Hills 86-71 for their state crown — a few questions emerged in the banter with droves of fans from eastern and western patches of the state converging together.

Who has the best boys’ basketball team in the state? Are the top two both in Pitt County? Can there be a game staged next week to decide an ultimate champion between nationally ranked South Central from the 4-A classification and undefeated 2-A school Farmville Central?

“Well, the truth is it would be illegal,” Pitt County athletics director Ron Butler said of a contest to be officiated and regulated by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association after the postseason. “We would love to do it and use Minges Coliseum (at East Carolina) and sell it out, but the NCHSAA rules do not allow it.”

The Pitt County pair won final games amid intense moments in front of eager onlookers.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams was in attendance to see the Falcons. He and the Tar Heels already have secured a verbal commitment from South Central 6-foot-10 junior Day’Ron Sharpe, whose dunks and athleticism near the rim wowed thousands of exuberant fans packed into Reynolds for the first game of the day.

Sharpe, who admitted he was not aware Williams was there about 12 hours after UNC lost to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals in Charlotte, earned Most Valuable Player honors after scoring 23 points with 13 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots.

Already supersized and plenty acclaimed with budding star power, Sharpe can ease into acting like a regular kid.

“He’s a jokester,” said South Central senior class president Ashleigh Wilson, who had gym class with Sharpe last year. “But he is so nice and will talk to anybody.”

South Central coach Chris Cherry was 0-2 in state championship games, including in 2011 when his Falcons lost the 3-A final — in Reynolds Coliseum — by one point to Hunter Huss.

This time, the Falcons led the entire game in a thorough performance to cap a dominant season.

South Central, which is one of the smallest schools in the NCHSAA’s largest division, 4-A, but also is ranked No. 6 in the nation by USA Today, defeated two teams from Raleigh last week before easily dispatching of West Charlotte, 72-46, on Saturday.

“People look at who has knocked us out the last couple of years, but you need to look at who we have knocked out along this way,” Cherry said. “We’ve done damage. … Today just validated that.”

Furthermore, South Central opened in 2002 and this win was a huge prize in the Falcons continuing to build their resume as a school and prominent athletics program in Pitt County and eastern North Carolina.

SCHS students said during the fourth quarter that it was already their best sports memory. Families from Winterville and Greenville cheered on the team with pride.

“A lot of people outside of our area still think of J.H. Rose and D.H. Conley, with South Central being the newer school,” said Shannon McBride, who sat in the front row with her husband, Ed, and daughter, Paige, a former Falcon cheerleader who graduated from South Central last year. “I do think this kind of helps put us out there more.”

For Farmville, Marlow Bynum was a little anxious before the night game, yet fully enveloped by the atmosphere and unique bond that can exist between players, family members and fans in high school athletics.

His son, Samage Teel, finished his first season with the undefeated Jaguars with a championship.

“We’re sticking together,” Bynum said. “I love the whole fan base and how the student section gets packed and pumped. It all goes hand in hand and we’re here to pick each other up.”

Wins by Farmville Central’s girls and boys would have accomplished a historical feat as the first NCHSAA school to ever win state championships in both genders with undefeated records.

Even after a 63-53 emotional loss by the girls, players felt pride in their season and their school.

“We were just like a family, and that’s what I’ll remember most,” junior guard Rashya Speight said.

Farmville Central’s boys then captured their championship.

The South Central versus Farmville Central question then had to be asked.

“I’ve put a contract out there for $56,000, but nobody has picked it up yet, and that would be our fee just to get us both in the gym,” longtime Jaguars coach and athletics director Larry Williford said with a laugh.

“Schedules are done a year in advance and that’s something me and Chris will sit down and talk about next year, but right now, I’m focused on what these guys did and what they accomplished and how we are going to celebrate their legacy.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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