Charlotte Catholic’s athletic programs have plenty of experience playing for state championships – except the boys basketball team.
That changes Saturday, when the Cougars (31-1) face Cary (31-1) for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state title at the Dean E. Smith Center.
This will be the first-ever appearance in the 4A state finals for Catholic, but the Imps are in a similar situation – none of their players had been born when Cary made its last appearance, in the 1995 4A final.
“It’s the first time for us, but technically it’s going to be the first time for them, too,” Cougars coach Mike King said. “Everybody’s going to be excited, but if we stay focused on our task at hand … then everything else will be fine. When you start trying to do a little too much, that’s when you get into trouble.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Catholic has been one of the state’s surprise teams this season, reeling off 22 consecutive victories to open the season, then knocking off North Mecklenburg 46-41 in last Saturday’s 4A Western Regional final in Winston-Salem.
A win in Saturday’s final would also give the Cougars a rare sweep of the state football and basketball titles in a school year. The last time came in 2006-2007, when Concord won the 3A championships in both sports.
“(Catholic’s players) have confidence in themselves, and we’ve got confidence in them – that’s really all you need,” King said. “We’ve had doubters since we were 22-0, and people are still doubting us. But all we’ve got to know that there are 15 players and five coaches that believe in what we’re doing.”
East Lincoln gets 2nd chance
Last year, East Lincoln took an undefeated record into its 2A state final against Kinston – and lost.
This year, the Mustangs (28-0) get a second chance at a state title when they face undefeated Farmville Central (27-0) on Saturday at the Dean E. Smith Center.
“The kids are excited to be back,” East Lincoln coach Neil Hodges said. “We were here last year, and it gave us a little taste. It was a great experience.”
That experience will serve the Mustangs well, with four starters from last year’s team getting their second shot – guard Cameron Dollar, forwards Sage Surratt and Hayden Duggins, and guard Chazz Surratt.
The return of Chazz Surratt – the national player of the year in football who injured his elbow during the playoffs – in early February has provided East Lincoln with a much-needed boost, according to Hodges.
“It’s really had a positive effect,” Hodges said. “He’s a very loyal, very competitive guy. He wanted to win the championship. It’s kind of driven him and all the other kids to hang tough and keep going.”
A first for Robinson
Jay M. Robinson coach Lavar Batts Sr. doesn’t plan on doing anything different in preparing his team for Saturday’s 3A boys state title game at Carmichael Auditorium.
After all, what Batts has done in practice all season has Robinson (28-3) in its first-ever state championship game against Fayetteville’s Terry Sanford High.
“I’ve just been treating this like a regular game,” Batts said. “It’s definitely been a wonderful ride, but like I’ve told the guys, ‘We’re not done yet; we have another game, we need to finish the job and have a storybook ending to our season.’”
Experience will be on the side of Terry Sanford (29-1), which has all five starters back from last year’s 3A state championship-winning team.
But Robinson emerged from a tough Southern Piedmont 3A with the regular-season and tournament titles, and head into Saturday’s 3A title game on an 18-game winning streak.
“I’ve said all year that we’ve had the toughest conference in the state, hands down,” Batts said. “It was definitely a fight every single night.”