Flyers Land in National Tournament
The Sandhills Community College basketball team was a little more than a minute away from wrapping up the District 7 championship last Saturday when a melodic sound rang from the top row of the gym.
“New Yoooork, New Yoooork,” sang Beverly Ewings, the stepmother of Flyer sophomore Erick Ewing. As the clock wound down to the final seconds, Flyer coach Mike Apple got into the act, exhorting his players: “We’re going to New York, we’re going to New York.”
All Aboard: SCC Flyers Claim District Crown; Final Destination National Tourney in NY
After earning a berth in Friday’s District 7 title game with a hard fought victory over the Anne Arundel Pioneers, the Flyers punched their ticket to New York on Saturday via an 82-67 win over the Prince George's C.C. Owls in the championship tilt. Sandhills (27-6) now heads to Sullivan County Community College, in the Catskills region of New York, for the NJCAA Division III tournament, which starts on Thursday.
The 82-67 victory over Prince George’s CC of Maryland, in the game played at Rockingham Community College, qualified the Flyers (27-6) for the NJCAA Division III National Championship. They begin play in the eight-team event being held at Sullivan County CC in the Catskills region of New York with a 5 p.m. game against No. 1 ranked Brookdale CC of Lincroft, N.J. (27-2) Thursday.
Each team will play three games over three days to determine the first through eighth places, leading up to the championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday. All games will be streamed live by NJCAA TV powered by iHigh.com.
In the fourth year of the return of athletic programs to SCC, the basketball team follows men’s golf (2010) and volleyball (2010) in qualifying for national championship play.
Riding the wave of jubilation from winning region and district tournaments on back-to-back weekends, Monday’s final practice before boarding the bus for New York the next morning was an important one.
“The big deal with me right now is I’ve got to get these guys’ heads right,” Apple said as the players warmed up. “They’ve been congratulated, and now it’s time to get down to business.”
The Flyers, ranked No. 6 in the latest NJCAA poll, won their first 12 games before losing five of their next eight. The victory over Prince George’s was their eighth in a row and 12th in the last 13. They defeated arch-rival Davidson CC 104-82 to capture the Region X title two weekends ago.
In addition to Brookdale CC, the other six teams are also ranked in the top 10, including No. 2 Central Lakes CC of Minnesota (27-3), No. 3 Roxbury CC of Massachusetts (22-3), No. 4 Bronx CC (27-2), No. 5 SUNY Delhi (28-5), and No. 10 Milwaukee Area Technical College (22-11).
The Flyers are led in the scoring department by All-Region X honorees Markell Lotharp (16.4 ppg.), Pinecrest grad Daquain Towns (15.2) and Raheem Jolliffe (14.2). They have used an 11-to-12 man rotation throughout the season to stay fresh and give other teams different styles of play to adjust to. Jolliffe and Lotharp have both been named DIII national players of the week during the last month.
The Brookdale CC Jersey Blues are led by 6-3 guard Kevin Ohen (18.0 ppg.). Other than perusing the NJCAA statistics, the Flyers won’t know much about Thursday’s opponent until they arrive at the tournament site.
“The nice thing about the tournament,” Apple said, “is that when we get there we’re going to get a video of their last game. That will give us a feel for what they want to do.”
Davidson CC qualified for the national tournament the previous two years, finishing fourth a year ago. The Flyers were at their best in winning the Region X and District 7 championship games by wide margins.
Sophomore Tramaine Pride, another former Pinecrest player, was a member of the UNC Charlotte team coached by Bobby Lutz during the 2008-2009 season. As one of the older players, the 6-foot-3 forward’s maturity is particularly valuable to the team at this time of the year.
“Tramaine has been a leader on our team,” Apple said of a player who was also a member of his team when he coached at Pinecrest. “He’s a sounding board about what it takes to be prepared to play at a high level and stuff like that.”
According to Pride, the team is going to New York with confidence and resolve.
“We’ve always thought we were a championship team so it’s just the next step,” he said. “Coach Apple has been telling us that all season and I think we really do believe it. A lot of the guys are sophomores, and they just want to keep playing.”
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