When he was a student at then-Vance High back in the 1970s, Wilton Baskett found a quiet place in the gymnasium one day and prayed that he could eventually have the opportunity to be the boys basketball coach at his beloved school.
It took awhile, but that chance came in 1994 – after Vance had become Northern Vance following the creation of eventual cross-county rival Southern Vance.
Since then, Baskett has been a witness to 46 regular season games between two of the area’s fiercest foes, though the last eight years have featured non-league showdowns, as Northern has been a member of the Big 8 3A Conference and Southern has enjoyed a successful stretch in the Northern Carolina 2A Conference.
Northern will join Southern in a new-look NCC next year, but on Tuesday the clubs capped off one last nonconference chapter of their rivalry with one of the quirkiest series that Baskett can remember.
His club was routed by Southern last month, only to return the favor in resounding fashion with a 70-45 thumping of the Raiders.
The girls’ portion of the series was much more predictable as Southern Vance closed out a 2016-17 sweep of the Vikings with a 60-42 triumph.
Rare are the occasions when a two-game regular season series can feature a 47-point swing, but that’s exactly what happened this year between Northern and Southern.
The Raiders didn’t have much of a problem with Northern back in early December, pulling away late to win 71-49.
But this time around, the Vikings (8-6) used a 9-0 spurt at the end of the second period to take a 31-22 cushion into halftime. The closest cold-shooting Southern Vance (6-5) would get the rest of the way would be eight points midway through the third quarter as Northern used its unique combination of size and speed to control the second-half proceedings.
“When we played (Southern) the first time, we had only six practices in three weeks,” Baskett said. “We’ve been able to get some practices in, and I really like where we are at right now. We shot the ball well, we got some blocked shots, we rebounded and we played really good 1-3-1 defense.”
Ten different Vikings dented the scorebook, led by double-digit contributors Laquad Holden (14), Malik Glasco (11) and Kalin Jackson (11).
“Everybody was pumped for this game,” Jackson said. “We haven’t clicked yet – we have a lot of younger guys who are still learning. But we are getting it together and developing as a team.”
Despite his club’s six losses, Baskett thinks the Vikings be a factor this winter in the competitive Big 8. Baskett has coached Northern Vance to eight league championships during his tenure, but none since 2010.
“Actually, I feel like this could be one of the best teams I’ve had here,” Baskett said. “We are really coming along.”
Southern coach Gregory Ackles, in his fourth year, is looking for a repeat of last season, when the Raiders saved their best for last by peaking late while winning the NCC tournament.
But in order to be successful, the smaller Raiders need to shoot well from the outside, and Southern Vance struggled with that intangible Tuesday.
“That was probably the worst we’ve shot since I have been coaching here,” Ackles said. “We are who we are. I would love to be 11-0, but we aren’t. As a whole, we need to work to fix the problems, and I take responsibility for that as the coach. We can’t miss all the layups and 3-pointers that we missed (Tuesday). And you have to give credit to Northern Vance because they came to play.”
Justus Baldwin was Southern’s lone double-digit scorer with 16 markers.
When the rivalry is renewed in 2016-17, the stakes will be higher between the Vance County rivals – at least from a conference standings perspective.
But Baskett expects little else to change.
“When we play (Southern) it is always going to be intense,” Baskett said. “These kids have grown up thinking about playing in the Northern Vance-Southern Vance game. We could play (SV) five times a year, and there would be the same big crowd in the stands. There is such a build-up from the fans. Everything is about this game.”
One of the most prosperous eras in Southern Vance girls basketball history came in the 2000s, when the Runnin’ Raiders used a stifling, full-court pressure defense to overwhelm opponents.
But lately, the Raiders (6-4) have been more of a methodical, half-court team, mainly because the club hasn’t boasted the pieces to play a transition-oriented strategy.
That all changed before this year when ninth-grader Nashiya Branch arrived on campus – and instantly changed the dynamic of the entire girls basketball program.
Thanks to Branch’s blend of effective ballhandling, passing, shooting and speed at the point guard position, Southern Vance has been able to revisit its full-court press – and with plenty of success.
“We are small but mighty,’’ said Southern head coach Sheila Kearney. “We have to use our quickness. We are still learning because we have a young team with three freshmen. Last year, we had the post players. This year, we have the guards.’’
Branch has made an immediate impact, including Tuesday’s 17-point performance, including 14 during a first half that concluded with the Raiders in command for good at 28-15.
“Everybody leans on (Branch) to do everything,” Kearney said. “She has shown that she can do it. She has a great eye for the game, and what is most impressive to me is that she is not selfish. When she has the ball, good things happen.”
Southern Vance, which last won the NCC Championship three years ago, has only two seniors on its roster, but one of them – Ayeshia Teasley – enjoyed a red-shot shooting night on Tuesday as she poured in 30 points, which was the second-highest total of her career. Teasley, who has the ability to play both inside and outside for the Raiders, converted six trifectas. Teasley is the lone full-time starter back for Southern from last season.
“We struggled a bit last year, but we are working together well this year,” Teasley said. “We have to work with each other and not get down on ourselves. I know my teammates look up to me because I am a senior, so I have to keep my head up.”
Northern, which is winless at 0-11, has lost every game by double digits to date. But the Vikings have a second-year coach in Adrine Pettaway who is passionate about rebuilding the school’s girls basketball coach – and for good reason.
Pettaway was a member of the Vikings’ last conference championship squad back in 2001. She then graduated from North Carolina Central, but didn’t become seriously interested in teaching and coaching until the job became vacant at Northern before the 2015-16 school year.
“It was something I had thought about, but I wasn’t really sure until a mentor of mine told me about the opportunity (to come back to her alma mater),” Pettaway said. “We won only two games last year, and we have only four players back from that team. It’s going to take some hard work, dedication and commitment (for the program to make its way back toward past successes). We also have some girls who still need to learn the game of basketball).”
Senior guard Kayleigh Spencer led Northern with 17 points, including a pair of treys.