This week marks the halfway point of the Big 8 regular season, and it’s clear that everyone is chasing Southern Durham for first place.
It’s also clear what the three Orange County teams need to catch them. Chapel Hill will have its chance this Friday when they host the Spartans, who have won seven straight and have started 5-0 in conference play.
Bill Walton’s Tigers attack from outside-in, employing four guards that pepper opponents with 3-point shooting.
On a good night.
On a bad night, the games look like Chapel Hill’s 77-67 loss to Orange last Friday. The Panthers’ Connor Crabtree not only scored 32 points, but he used his 6-foot-5 frame to defend in the backcourt, leaving it difficult for CHHS guards Elijah Haynes and Ben Gaynes to find any open room.
Haynes finished with 17 points, but his offense came in spurts. He was held scoreless in the third quarter and didn’t hit a three-pointer. Max Connolly led the Tigers with 23 points.
“If we knock down shots consistently, we don’t have to worry about our lack of size,” said Walton. “We didn’t hit enough of them tonight.”
Starters Parker Hill and Andrew Clark were held scoreless against Orange’s beefy front line, which had a returnee last week in center Jace Jordan-Cornell.
The 6-7 senior was also an offensive guard for Pat Moser’s football team last fall. He suffered a lower leg injury on Nov. 13 during a playoff victory over Northwood. His return gives Coach Greg Motley some much-needed depth in the front court, something that is lacking for many teams across the league.
Of course, Motley also has Crabtree, arguably the Big 8 MVP for the first half of the season. Crabtree, who has had a scholarship offer from Lehigh along with visits from High Point and Appalachian State, scored 43 points on Dec. 27 in a 105-96 loss to Richmond County at the Holiday in the Pines tournament in Southern Pines.
“We know what we can get from him,” Motley said about Crabtree. “He brings the offense every night. That’s what he does for us.”
After an 0-3 start, the Panthers are 7-7, 4-1 in the Big 8. CHHS is 5-9, 3-1
Then there’s Cedar Ridge (7-7, 1-4), which earned its first conference win on Friday night, 68-61 over Northwood. Point guard Peyton Pappas led the Red Wolves with 29 points, while Chapel Hill transfer Jacob Thomas added 19.
Orange and Cedar Ridge will be on exam break this week. Cedar Ridge will host Orange, which won their first meeting 74-67, in a rematch next Tuesday.
Chapel Hill girls on Southern’s heels
Southern has emerged as the early leader as well in the Big 8 girls’ race, but four-time conference champion Chapel Hill isn’t far behind.
The Tigers improved to 10-4 overall and 3-1 in conference games with last Friday’s 57-43 win against Orange. Alliyah Chaplin led Chapel Hill with an impressive double-double of 25 points and 17 rebounds, also making six steals and two assists. Autumn West contributed 16 points for the Tigers.
With nine straight wins, Chapel Hill was in third place in the Big 8, one-half game behind Northwood (14-2, 4-1). Southern (12-2, 5-0) was a full game up on Northwood after blowing out Northern Vance 55-30.
Chapel Hill’s girls host former conference rival Cardinal Gibbons at 6 p.m. Wednesday (followed by a boys game at 7:30), and then travel Thursday to Southern Durham for a 7 p.m. tipoff. (The CHHS boys host Southern at 7 p.m. Thursday.)