Before the 2014-15 high school basketball season started, Myers Park’s boys were ranked in the top 10 of the Observer’s preseason Sweet 16 high school basketball poll, and the Mustangs had expectations to match that lofty ranking.
Then the season began.
Myers Park won its first three games, then promptly lost six in a row and eight of its next nine. The Mustangs went 27 days without a win in December. How they’ve rebounded to reach their first N.C. 4A Western Regional playoff in six years, coach Wes Hepler said, is nothing short of amazing.
“We got knocked down there for a little bit,” Hepler said. “But the one thing we didn’t do is we never gave up.”
Myers Park (16-11) will play West Charlotte (23-3) in a regional semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Winston-Salem’s Lawrence Joel Coliseum. Ardrey Kell (26-1) will play Greensboro Page (21-5) in the other regional semifinal at 4.
Thursday, two Mecklenburg County girls’ teams will play in regional semifinals at Lawrence Joel: Ardrey Kell (25-2) plays Northwest Guilford (27-0) at 7 p.m. and 2014 N.C. 4A state champ Myers Park (26-1) plays Winston-Salem Reynolds (27-0) at 8:30.
All of those teams are riding long win streaks.
Myers Park’s girls, ranked No. 9 in MaxPreps national poll, have lost only to national No. 3 Blackman (Tenn) and have won 21 consecutive games. Ardrey Kell, which has lost to Myers Park and N.C. 3A regional semifinalist Weddington, has won 24 in a row. And West Charlotte’s boys, in the regionals for the sixth time in seven seasons, have won eight in a row.
Myers Park’s boys don’t quite have that type of resume, but Hepler said that’s fine. After losing in the first round of the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, having this playoff run has been quite a fun ride, he said. Myers Park qualified for the regionals by avenging two losses to Southwestern 4A Conference champ Butler in Tuesday’s sectional championship game on Butler’s home court.
In the final moments, Mustangs star Zaqwuan Matthews took a 3-point attempt, which was short. But the ball came right to Henry Richards, who was boxing his man out. Richards jumped up – kind of like N.C. State’s Lorenzo Charles did in the 1983 NCAA Championship win over Houston – and gently laid the errant shot in the basket with six seconds left. Myers Park won by 1.
“We played really well early and we had high expectations,” Hepler said, “but the whole time I didn’t think we knew how good we were. We have nine seniors but only a few of them had played minutes going into this year. Then to go nearly a month without winning a game is tough. We were starting to wonder for awhile if we’d ever win a game.”
A turning point came in January when Myers Park played at S.C. charter school Gray’s Collegiate in Columbia. MaxPreps ranks Gray’s as South Carolina’s No. 29 overall team. Myers Park had a shot to win at the buzzer but lost by a point. Since that game, Myers Park is 10-2, and three wins away from the school’s first boys’ basketball championship.
“It was a turning point,” Hepler said. “We said, ‘We can beat good teams.’ We knew we were right there. After that, we quit worrying about what the expectations had been or about the outcome. We stopped worrying about what everybody on the outside thought and with these nine seniors, we just wanted to enjoy every moment, because most of these guys won’t play organized basketball again.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
NCHSAA Western Regional Pairings
Boys 4A at Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem
Friday, 4 : 1 Ardrey Kell (26-1) vs. 5 Greensboro Page (21-5)
Friday, 5:30 : 3 West Charlotte (23-3) vs. 23 Myers Park (16-11)
Saturday, 4 : championship at Joel Coliseum
Boys 3A at Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem
Thursday, 4 : 1 Ledford (23-4) vs. 5 Ashbrook (21-3)
Thursday, 5:30 : 2 Crest (22-4) vs. 3 Cuthbertson (22-5)
Saturday, noon: championship at Joel Coliseum
Boys 2A at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds (Annex)
Friday, 7 : 1 Sylva Smoky Mountain (26-1) vs. 4 Lexington (23-4)
Friday, 8:30 : 2 East Lincoln (22-0) vs. 4 North Rowan (19-6)
Saturday, 6 : championship at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds (Annex)
Boys 1A at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds (Annex)
Thursday, 7 : 6 Avery County (20-8) vs. 7 Winston-Salem Prep (18-7)
Thursday, 8:30 : 1 Albemarle (25-0) vs. 5 Lincoln Charter (24-6)
Saturday, 2 : championship at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds (Annex)
Girls 4A at Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem
Thursday, 7 : 1 Northwest Guilford (27-0) vs. 4 Ardrey Kell (25-2)
Thursday, 8:30 : 2 Winston-Salem R.J. Reynolds (27-0) vs. 3 Myers Park (26-1)
Saturday, 2 : championship at Joel Coliseum
Girls 3A at Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem
Friday, 7 : 1 Hickory (24-0) vs. 4 Asheville Erwin (26-1)
Friday, 8:30 : 2 Weddington (28-1) vs. 11 Freedom (23-3)
Saturday, 6 : championship at Joel Coliseum
Girls 2A at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds (Annex)
Thursday, 4 : 5 Wilkes Central (23-4) vs. 8 R-S Central (21-5)
Thursday, 5:30 : 2 Bandys (25-1) vs. 3 East Davidson (27-0)
Saturday, noon: championship at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds (Annex)
Girls 1A at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds (Annex)
Friday, 4 : 2 Hiwassee Dam (29-1) vs. 3 Winston-Salem Prep (21-3)
Friday, 5:30 : 9 Cherokee (24-3) vs. 13 Albemarle (18-8)
Saturday, 4 : championship at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds (Annex)