Stepping Up: What to expect as local basketball teams enter conference play

Published 4:54 pm Friday, December 8, 2017

Northside’s brief trip to Williamston on Friday marks the beginning of the conference-basketball season in Beaufort County. Washington and Southside will follow suit next week.

This time of the year can make or break a team. It’s a long shot given the depth of the conference, but a turnaround for the Pam Pack could mean a possible playoff berth.

On the other hand, the Lady Pack, Panthers and Lady Seahawks all seem to be positioned to make a run at a top-two finish in their respective leagues. Performance in conference has a direct impact on playoff seeding, and a number of Beaufort County’s teams have high postseason aspirations.

Here’s a breakdown of how each conference area schools will compete in:


Johnathan Clark darts down the court on a fast break.

1-A Coastal Plains (boys):

The Panthers have found a groove early in the season. It wasn’t hard with the way sophomore point guard Rashod Smith facilitates the offense. Combine his talents with three-year starter Braeden Cooper and the athletic Johnathan Clark, among others, and their guard play has been the driving force in a run-and-gun style that lends itself to getting in a groove.

The Panthers face a tall order at Riverside. The Knights, new to the 1-A Coastal Plains Conference, are coming off of a 24-4 campaign in 2016, but also lost five of their top-six scorers.

The Panthers should challenge for a top spot in the CPC. They’re prone to being outmatched in the post, but their sheer speed on both ends of the court should allow them to take a step forward after a 6-6 showing in the league last season.

East Carteret, which won the 2016 conference title, is no longer in the CPC. Pamlico County finished just behind the Mariners and is poised to make another run at the championship. Caleb Barron and Lamont Murray — two double-digit scorers from last year — should both be back this season.


1-A Coastal Plains (girls):

The Lady Panthers face an uphill battle in taking on Riverside’s girls’ squad. Junior Demetria Bland leads the Lady Knights. She is averaging 20 points per game as her side had won four of its first five. Riverside and Pamlico County both look like contenders early in the year.

The Lady Hurricanes seem to be a consensus favorite considering they return a bevy of key players from last year’s team that played for a state championship. Yes, they lost five seniors, but they still return leading scorer Jainaya Jones.

The question now is how the rest of the top three shakes out.

Northside’s girls, while young, will aim to finish in the top half of the league standings. It will be crowded, though, as Southside is also armed for a strong showing this year. The Lady Seahawks — led by seniors Danielle Ruffin, Symone Ruffin and Michaela Dixon — have plenty of firepower and a well-rounded group.

Look for Southside to make a leap forward from last season’s 6-6 finish in the CPC.


2-A Eastern Carolina (boys):

Washington is going to go through the ringer when it plays its first game in the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference on Tuesday. The Pam Pack won’t get to ease its way into the new league. Rather, it will hit the road Tuesday to challenge a Greene Central team that ravaged it last year.

The Rams are more than a runaway favorite to win the ECC. They’re believed to be one of the best teams in the entire east. They graduated no one from last year’s team that played for the regional championship.

The conference is deep. Kinston always churns out a solid team. West Craven, with Latrell and Laqueze Campbell, looks like a group that will fight for a top-three spot. North Lenoir, which sat at 5-1 going into Friday, could challenge for a spot in the top half of the standings.

Washington is going to be challenged each and every time it steps on the court. The Pam Pack hasn’t been able to hit any sort of stride yet. Time is running out to find some semblance of momentum if it hopes to finish better than last.


2-A Eastern Carolina (girls):

There’s no reason Washington can’t compete for a spot near the top of the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference. The Lady Pack has been dealt its adversity early on this year. Once Tierra Wiggins returns from injury, this is a well-rounded and talented group that can hang with most anyone in the league.

South Lenoir and Kinston sit atop the rankings right now. Both have had solid non-conference performances. Senior Hunter West leads the Lady Blue Devils. While the 6-foot forward may be a frontrunner for conference player of the year as she’s averaging almost 24 points per game, South Lenoir doesn’t have much else around her.

Washington’s defensive capabilities and spread-out scoring lend itself to a good matchup with teams that rely too heavily on one or two players.

The Lady Vikings have a winning record through the non-conference stretch. North Lenoir should finish somewhere in the middle, but that’s about it. Greene Central, West Craven and Ayden-Grifton have all struggled mightily as league openers approach.