Saturday afternoon in Raleigh, West Charlotte High will try to win the school’s sixth N.C. High School Athletic Association state championship. The Lions will be a big underdog.
West Charlotte (25-6) faces South Central (29-1) at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum. Led by 6-10 junior center Day’Ron Sharpe, South Central has won 19 straight games and is ranked No. 6 in USA Today’s national poll. Sharpe, ranked No. 34 by 247 Sports in the class of 2020, has committed to North Carolina.
And West Charlotte can’t wait for its chance at an upset.
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“It’s a very big game,” said third-year West Charlotte coach Jacoby Davis. “We’ve got guys that have hung in there with me and parents who have hung in there with me. I’d like for those guys to go out with a bang, more for them than for me. I want them to go out with a state championship.”
This will be the Lions’ first state final in seven years, but it’s similar to one West Charlotte played 27 years ago.
In March of 1992, West Charlotte was 24-5 and was facing a 29-1 Kinston team led by junior Jerry Stackhouse, who would play for Dean Smith at North Carolina.
Kinston was ranked No. 22 nationally. Stackhouse, the first N.C. player to make the Parade All-America team as a junior, was averaging 30 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals per game.
Sure enough, Stackhouse and Kinston came out, dunking everything, and led by 14 points in the third quarter. Then, West Charlotte staged a big rally, ending with five free throws from game MVP Antonio Bell in the final minute to seal an improbable 65-63 win. Stackhose finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks, but West Charlotte became the first 4A team to repeat as N.C state champions in two decades.
“They gave us their best shot,” said Lions guard Pep Hamilton, who would go onto become an assistant football coach at Stanford and Michigan and coach in the NFL. “And we took it. It doesn’t seem real. They’re up 10, 14 points. It was like Phi Slamma Jamma or something. And we still won.”
Like Kinston in ‘92, South Central of Pitt County is a juggernaut in 2019.
After losing in the past two N.C. 4A Eastern Regional championship games, the Falcons walloped Raleigh Millbrook 70-50 last Saturday. Sharpe finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Teammate Shykeim Phillips, a 6-2 guard with offers from schools like East Carolina and Old Dominion, had 21 points.
South Central, just south of Greenville, has won its last two playoff games by a combined 54 points. In the regular-season, the Falcons beat opponents by an average of 36 per game.
“I don’t know much about South Central,” West Charlotte senior guard Cartier Jernigan said. “I know they have a big kid. We have a big kid as well. And I’ll take my big kid over another one any day.”
West Charlotte’s “big kid,” is 6-8 senior Patrick Williams, a Florida State signee. Williams is ranked No. 38 nationally by 247 Sports and is the No. 2 prospect in the N.C. class of 2019.
With a player like Williams, West Charlotte coach Jacoby Davis thinks his team matches up well with South Central, and he thinks having played a tough schedule helps, too.
West Charlotte has played several nationally ranked teams this season, including Oak Hill (Va), Concord Cox Mill, Norcross (GA) and Ranney (NJ).
South Central lost 63-58 to Ranney at the John Wall Holiday Invitational in Raleigh over Christmas break. West Charlotte lost 70-58 to Ranney in the same event.
“They’re not the best team we played this year,” Davis said of South Central. “We have played (other nationally ranked teams). It won’t be the first time. We know they’ll be tough. It’s going to be a good game...We know they have a good coach (Chris Cherry) and they’re talented. It’s not just one kid (Sharpe). They have a few other players who can play also. It’s going to be interesting.”