Pity any team that underestimates Chapel Hill’s girls basketball team.
Chapel Hill (24-2) hasn’t lost to a North Carolina 3A team since falling in the 2013 N.C. High School Athletics Association state 3A championship game against Charlotte’s Harding University High School. The 2013-14 Tigers’ only two losses to date came against 4A Durham Hillside (21-4) and Raleigh Ravenscroft (25-5) a private prep program that reached the semifinals of the N.C. Independent Schools tournament.
Chapel Hill’s players have used their loses like a goad, driving them to try harder. After the loss to Harding, the Tigers proceeded to beat their 2014 opponents by an average of 37 points a game. After this season’s two losses, they won the next games by 30 and 51 points, respectively.
“People have underestimated us all year, especially after we lost to Hillside and lost to Ravenscroft,” Chapel Hill guard Tamia Eatmon said after Chapel Hill beat Rockingham County 61-41 in last weekend’s NCHSAA East Region championship game. Seeded No. 4 in the 3A East, Chapel Hill knocked of No. 1-seeded Eastern Wayne by a 57-47 score in the region semifinal.
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Now the Tigers are getting ready to play in a state championship final for the third straight year. Chapel Hill (24-2) will meet Hickory (26-0) at 5 p.m. Saturday in Carmichael Arena in a rematch of last year’s championship final.
“My freshman year, after we lost in the eastern semifinals (47-46 to Burlington Williams), I never would have thought that we'd be playing my senior year in a third state final,” said Chapel Hill’s Jessica Wall. “It still feels unreal, but I'm happy to be going back.”
Wall was named to the East Regional all-tournament team along with Chapel Hill senior classmates Tamia Eatmon and Raziyah Farrington. Voted the Most Valuable Player of last year’s state championship game, Farrington also was named MVP of last weekend’s East Regional in Fayetteville.
Chapel Hill defeated Hickory 69-56 last year in the Smith Center and capped an undefeated season with the 2014 NCHSAA championship. But this year their roles seem reversed: the West region’s No. 1 seed, Hickory (26-0) is the undefeated team, making its third trip to the finals in five years, while Eastern No. 4 seed Chapel Hill looks a bit more like the challenger.
Last year, Hickory averaged 69.8 points per game and yielded opponents 38.6; Chapel Hill averaged 70.1 ppg and gave up only 32.9 a game. This year, those positions are just about reversed, with Hickory scoring 70.1 and giving up just 26.7, while Chapel Hill averages 65.7 and its opponents 38.2.
The Red Tornadoes put quite a show in thumping Weddington 56-13 in last weekend’s West Region final. That was a 43-point beatdown of a team that finished 29-2.
“We’ve always been a defensively oriented team,” Hickory coach Barbara Helms said. “But this team has taken that to a whole new level.”
Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris said her players won’t worry about that.
“We’re just going to worry about focusing on what we’re supposed to do,” Norris said, “and on doing that well.”