GREENSBORO Harding High has never been to a girls' basketball state championship game. West Charlotte's boys have been to a bunch of them. But after both teams won N.C. Western Regional championship games Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center and earned title game berths, both teams did the same thing.
They didn't celebrate.
I expected that from the Lions. Despite enormous pressure to repeat as state champs - and despite having a rather large target on their back all season - West Charlotte and coach Baronton Terry have qualified for the last game again. But they know that's only half the job. That's why they really only shook hands and smiled after beating Davie County 73-59.
"You don't get to enjoy these much," said Terry, who will try to join legendary Charles McCullough as the only multiple state championship-winning boys' basketball coaches at West Charlotte. McCullough won five. "Basically I'll enjoy this one on the way home and when I get there, I'll look for film on who were are playing next (Wilmington New Hanover)."
West Charlotte's boys won state championships in 1963, 1966, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1999 and in the 2010 -11 season. They reached their first N.C. High School Athletic Association state final in 1968. The Lions girls reached NCHSAA state finals in 2008 and '09, winning the 2008 championship.
The Lions players, and their fans, know the history, the tradition and are well-versed in how to handle the moment. But watching Harding after its big win, you wouldn't have thought Harding had never gotten this far before. When the 78-46 win against Hickory was done, all the Rams did was smile and shake hands, too.
"This is where we wanted to be," Harding all-tournament guard LaTondra Morrow said. "But this isn't where we want to end. We really expected to be here and we worked hard. We still want one more."
Harding played like an experienced championship team for second-year coach Anthony Jones. The Rams have long been a local success, winning eight straight conference tournament championships, but until this season, Harding hadn't been able to excel on the biggest stage.
The Rams are mix of young players and experienced ones. Jones has six seniors plus three sophomores and two juniors. They were awfully impressive Saturday.
Hickory had won 20 straight games, steamrolling most of its competition.
Harding steamrolled Hickory. The Rams forced 29 turnovers, getting 24 steals with a relentless full-court zone pressure defense. On offense, Alexius Hampton (23 points, five steals, five assists), Morrow (10 points, six steals) and Abrea Harris (14 points, six rebounds, six assists, four steals) had monster games.
Hickory never had a chance.
"We felt like we were a little underrated all season," Jones said. "They were other teams around town getting more press, but I told the girls to keep working and their time would come."
Their time has come, indeed. And their time is now.